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Steele vows to aid juvenile site
Next board chief says she won't rule out management change

Friday, July 28, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Ofelia Casillas

Incoming interim Cook County President Bobbie Steele visited the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center Thursday, vowing to do "anything necessary to protect the health and welfare of those children."

"If it takes a change in management, I will do that," Steele said, responding to County Board Commissioner Forrest Claypool's call Wednesday to replace center Supt. Jerry Robinson and his senior staff.
"I will do whatever it takes to bring some resolve to the madness at the juvenile detention center," Steele said.

County officials have been in and out of court for years as reports of abuse and unsatisfactory conditions have dogged the facility, which holds an average of 400 teenagers, many awaiting trial.

As part of the most recent settlement between the American Civil Liberties Union and the county last month, a federal judge appointed Brenda Welch as compliance administrator to implement change at the facility.

In critiquing the center, Steele cited two Tribune articles this week that detailed Welch's findings of unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the site, as well as resistance to court-ordered reforms.

Claypool said he was encouraged by Steele's stance.

"I hope that she follows through on her words," Claypool said. "Nothing less than a complete change of senior management, however, will bring about compliance with the court order and the protection of these children."

ACLU attorney Benjamin Wolf encouraged Steele to speak to experts "and hear their frustrations with the current policies and management."

Steele acknowledged problems at the center "could have been resolved earlier," but she stopped short of criticizing Cook County President John Stroger, who is stepping down Monday after suffering a stroke earlier this year.

"I don't want to relive what has happened under the old administration," she said. "It is important that we move more expeditiously and pay more attention to court orders."

Steele said that after she is sworn in Tuesday, she will have the authority to demand change. "If they are not following through on required standards, it's a tough decision that has to be made about the management there," she said. "Obviously there is something wrong with the management. That is very clear to me."

During her visit to the center Thursday, Steele said she sat in on a staff meeting in which workers, led by Robinson, discussed "how they can better work with the court monitor."

Steele said the staff is awaiting an improvement plan, written by Welch and other experts, on how best to fix problems at the center.

"In the meantime, they are working to improve whatever internal problems [Welch has] cited. They do recognize that there are problems, and they seem to be willing to work toward resolving those problems.

"I let them know that abuse of children will not be tolerated, and any negligence in terms of employees not living up to the standards set by the institution will not be tolerated, no exception to the rule," Steele said.

Stroger spokeswoman Chinta Strausberg said Robinson did not "want to make any further comments."

"Mr. Robinson said he will let [Steele] speak," Strausberg said.

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