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Juvenile center's chief says he is shaking up staff

Friday, August 04, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Ofelia Casillas

Marking the start of changes to come, the new leader of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center said Thursday he was taking action to remove five management staff members from their positions at the beleaguered facility.

 "I can verify there are five people who are in the process of being moved," said interim Supt. J.W. Fairman said. "It's not appropriate or fair to say anything [further] until it's finalized."

Fairman, who was appointed Tuesday by interim County Board President Bobbie Steele, also confirmed that he is considering Carl Sanniti, a longtime juvenile corrections expert who is already evaluating problems at the facility, for a top position.

 Fairman said he planned to bring in additional experts with juvenile corrections experience to help shape the facility's future. Fairman was tapped this week to replace Jerry Robinson, whom Steele asked to resign.

 For seven years, Cook County officials have been in and out of court with the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the county over problems such as abuse against youth and a lack of sanitation.

 "We want the people to have confidence in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, that kids are free from abuse," Fairman said. "The minimum is that kids get no harm done to them--physical or mental. We just want to make sure that for the period of time they are here that we can treat them appropriately."

 After youths leave the center, Fairman said he wanted to improve the way the detention center supports them by identifying community agencies that can offer them services.

 "We can make sure we don't do anything to damage them and give them some ways to seek help on the outside," he said.

 As for the staff, Thursday's announcement could be the start of future changes.

 "This is just the beginning of us looking at the whole population," he said. "If it requires other action after we identify problem areas that lead to problem employees--to people unwilling or unable to conform to change--then we will have no choice but to take action to remove them from the juvenile facility."

 Benjamin Wolf, an ACLU attorney, called "very wise" Fairman's decision to replace five management staff members.

 "Taking on a significant reform process like this will be helped by independent, highly regarded experts like Mr. Sanniti," Wolf said. "We certainly encourage [Fairman] to look in that direction."

 Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) called the change "a step in the right direction."

 "It's about time. I'm encouraged," Peraica said. "I think we need to continue to focus on reform at this facility."

 Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who had called on Steele to fire Robinson, said: "The real test will come when the new managers are at the helm."



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