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Court should run juvie center: CBA panel

Friday, January 12, 2007
Daily Law Bulletin
by Jerry Crimmins

Oversight of the controversial Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, now under the Cook County Board, should be transferred to the chief Cook County judge's office, The Chicago Bar Association will recommend Thursday.
A CBA blue ribbon committee will also recommend that the Juvenile Detention Center at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave., formerly known as the Audy Home, be decentralized, according to a copy of its report obtained by the Law Bulletin.
The committee will urge that juvenile residents should be spread to at least two sites and perhaps to several throughout Cook County.
The first such new site for juvenile detention, the report says, should be in the south suburbs.
The report also says that the DuPage County Juvenile Detention Center ''can serve as a model for reforms at the Cook County center.''
Under the County Shelter Care and Detention Home Act, 55 ILCS 75, the report says, ''Every other juvenile detention center in the State of Illinois reports to the office of the chief judge,'' which allows for ''a close connection between the detention center and the juvenile court.''
Currently, Cook County's temporary juvenile center is in the same building as Juvenile Court, and the facilities have the same address.
According to the CBA, transferring oversight of the Juvenile Detention Center to the chief judge would mean that all new hires for the direct service staff would be required to have college degrees, as do similar personnel in the county Probation Department.
''Perhaps most important,'' the report states, ''judicial oversight would allow the center to access substantial state juvenile justice funding.''
This could fully fund four management positions and pay half of the cost of direct service staff members who have college degrees.
''This funding … could help immensely in supporting necessary reforms,'' the report states.
The Juvenile Detention Center has for years been the target of criticism.
In 1999, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Cook County in federal court seeking to force county officials ''to remedy systematic and long-standing mistreatment of young persons.''
This was a year after the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, also issued a strongly worded report.
Benjamin S. Wolf of the Illinois ACLU said in 1999 that children were ''left unprotected from violent attacks by other youths, physically and verbally abused by cruel guards, locked in their rooms for days often for violating petty rules, and forced to live in overcrowded conditions complete with rats and cockroaches.''
The ACLU said the center was designed to hold fewer than 500 juveniles, but often held more than 600 and sometimes up to 800 in a ''frightening and dangerous environment.''
In 2005, a Chicago Tribune Editorial Board investigation found that 35 of the facility's 480 employees had criminal convictions.
The Tribune said the center, where top employees were relatives or friends of John Stroger, then the Cook County Board President, was filthy, violent and scary.
After following the scandal ''with continuing dismay,'' said CBA President Kevin P. Durkin, the association formed a committee in 2005 to investigate and recommend solutions.
The CBA has a long history of efforts for juvenile justice in Cook County. At the request of community leaders, the CBA drafted the legislation that created the Juvenile Court in 1899. The CBA also assisted in the establishment of Chicago's first juvenile detention center.
In its report to be issued at a noon press conference Thursday, the CBA will recommend that a special facility be created for juveniles who are to be tried as adults for serious crimes, since they don't need to be in the Juvenile Court Building.
The CBA will also recommend that:
• Numerous staff vacancies be filled at the existing center.
• An overseer be appointed for the center's school, where critics say little learning has gone on.
• Far more access be allowed for attorneys and visiting relatives, and privacy be created for attorney visits.
• More food, clothing and bedding be provided for the residents.
• More recreational opportunities be provided.
Last August, the John Howard Association said the Detention Center also has a history of attempting to conceal injuries inflicted on the juveniles by the staff.
The CBA report recommends that staff get better training.
The CBA committee is chaired by retired Juvenile Court judge Patricia Brown Holmes.
In 2003, U.S. District Judge John A. Nordberg approved an agreement reached between the ACLU and Cook County mandating development of a plan to fix the Juvenile Detention Center, but serious problems continued.
Last year, Nordberg appointed a compliance administrator, who filed deeply critical reports of the center.
A new agreement between the ACLU and Cook County for reform of the center was issued Monday as a result of the ACLU's lawsuit.

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