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Claypool targets juvenile site
Steel urged to oust leader, senior staff

Thursday, July 27, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Ofelia Casillas

Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool called on incoming interim Board President Bobbie Steele Wednesday to replace the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center’s superintendent and senior staff in an effort to root out the facility’s persistent problems.

Claypool cited memos from a court-appointed official, reported in the Tribune, that portrayed continuing problems with hygiene and safety among nearly 400 juveniles held there, as well as resistance to court-ordered reforms.

On Wednesday the Tribune obtained the second status report filed by Brenda Welch, the compliance officer named last month by a federal judge to implement change at the center.

In that report, Welch asked facility Supt. Jerry Robinson about his failure to remove employees accused of abuse from direct contact with children until they could be trained, as county officials had agreed in court they would do.

“It had simply slipped [Robinson’s] mind,” Welch reported.

Welch also reported on a visit she made to the facility at 4 a.m. July 11, in which she found staffers responsible for eight residential units who were asleep and could not find the counselors responsible for five more.

Welch also put a spotlight on difficulties the center had in responding to crises, including a boy who appeared to be attempting suicide, a girl who injured herself and a boy who shattered glass in his cell.  Staff members paged psychologists and therapists, but those experts responded late, or in some cases not at all, Welch wrote.

In a letter to other commissioners, Claypool called Wednesday‘s Tribune report “fresh evidence that the management of the county’s juvenile detention center is failing the children.”

“Bring in your own group of committed professionals who are willing to protect the civil rights of the children detained at the center,” Claypool told Steele, who will be sworn in Tuesday to fill the remainder of President John Stroger’s term.

“After years of inaction by the previous administration, you have the opportunity to take bold action on behalf of these kids.  Their safety – and healthy futures – may depend on it.”

Some Cook County commissioners rallied behind Claypool’s call.

Commissioner Tony Peraica, the Republican candidate for board president in the November election, called Robinson a fine gentleman but said the facility needs a “tough disciplinarian.”

Commissioner Mike Quigley, a Claypool ally, agreed.

“Right now all we are doing is having an ever-increasing, mounting number of people observing the place.  They are all coming back with the same stuff - it’s terrible,” Quigley said.  “I’d love for President Steele to take the initiative and do something bold here.”

Calls to Steele’s office Wednesday were not returned.

In the meantime, residents at the facility face “dirty and unsanitary” conditions, said Welch’s July 15 report.

Welch said she observed standing water from window leaks, and youths drying off their bodies with T-shirts after showering.

Graffiti covered walls and metal ceiling tiles hung loose, exposing insulation, Welch reported.

Robinson “was unaware that the facility did not launder residents’ personal undergarments,” Welch wrote after she spoke to him on July 10.  Residents washed their underwear in their room sinks and toilets, she reported.

When told of sleeping staffers, Robinson said to Welch that “he had observed the same thing when he came to the facility one night,” Welch reported.

Welch wrote that she saw “numerous fights and calls for assistance.”  During a July 7 visit, more than 100 students – out of a facility population of 386 – did not attend school, she reported.

Also, supervisors did not know how many times a day they were supposed to count residents, she noted.



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