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Juvenile center not cooperating: monitor

Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by ANNIE SWEENEY AND STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporters

An outside monitor appointed to review court-ordered improvements and progress at the Cook County juvenile detention center said the administration is interfering with her work, according to her latest report from inside the troubled facility.
Brenda Welch, hired to ensure that improvements were made at the Cook County Temporary Detention Center -- long criticized for political hiring and lacking or failing care to residents -- said in her latest written report that a once "cooperative working relationship" is now "adversarial in nature."
"It has progressed to the point that an [assistant superintendent] allegedly instructed floor supervisors and floor managers to escort me whenever I am on living units and report back to him any concerns that I noted," Welch wrote in her October report, a copy of which was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Welch said she declined the escort because she was not aware of any new procedures. She noted that a new assistant superintendent who was hired by center Supt. J.W. Fairman to serve as a liaison for her also interfered with her work and curbed her progress with the review, in part because he has no experience in juvenile detention.
The report troubled attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois who represent residents at the detention center in a federal lawsuit over living conditions and physical treatment. Welch's hiring as a compliance administrator was intended to help speed along changes both sides in the lawsuit have agreed must happen.
'Spying on her'
"They don't have a right to monitor her," said Benjamin Wolf, ACLU Illinois' associate legal director. "She has the ability to interview staff confidentially. They seem to be spending an inappropriate amount of time spying on her instead of fixing the place. We're prepared to go back to court to protect her right to do her job."
Fairman, who issued a statement through spokeswoman Chinta Strausberg, said the escorts for Welch were intended to provide immediate attention to problems.
"When guards accompany her, it is to take action if she sees anything," said Strausberg.
The hiring of the new assistant superintendent -- for compliance, policy development and training -- should not interfere with her work, Strausberg said. Also, she can still come directly to Fairman with her concerns.
'My gun is bigger'
The report also detailed ongoing concerns about residents being put in confinement without documentation for why and concerns about general cleanliness at the center.
In one exchange that Welch overheard, a counselor engages in a verbal argument with several residents who were locked in their rooms. When residents banged on the door and asked if they were being confined because the counselor was afraid they would "kick his ass," the counselor allegedly responded:
"My gun is bigger than your gun and I can shoot better. The bigger the family, the better the funeral. I'd love to see you on the bricks out there."
Welch has previously reported other ongoing problems, including a lack of clean clothes and underwear, guards who were sleeping or gone from their post and infrequent checks on youths on suicide watch.


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