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Juvenile center work 'lagging,' report says

Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Ray Quintanilla

Three months after Cook County agreed to improve its Juvenile Temporary Detention Facility, the center continues to look as drab as ever and no one is reporting allegations of abuse against children, according to a new report by a leading organization monitoring state and local incarceration facilities.

"There is no sense of urgency to make change," said Malcolm Young, executive director of the John Howard Association of Illinois, in releasing a report Tuesday on the detention facility and its operations.
"The county needs to take steps it agreed to make last January. They are seriously lagging in progress," he explained.

Young's group said that the facility, located at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave., continues to need fresh paint and that it resembles a detention center for adults. In addition, nothing has been done to bolster recreational activities for kids, so "they are not offering kids constructive activities that will occupy their minds," he explained.

More importantly, Young added, someone should have been hired long ago to investigate allegations of abuse.

In January, county officials pledged to implement sweeping reforms as part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has been in and out of the courts since 1999, alleging poor treatment of children at the facility.

Jennifer Koehler, chief of policy for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, said that the John Howard Association's concerns are important, but that the county has to prioritize its list of reforms.

"We are covering many different topics, such as medical care for the children," she said. "We are focused on mental health care and things like suicide prevention."

Koehler said the county has until mid-July to achieve "substantial compliance" in achieving the list of reforms spelled out in more than 100 pages.

Any allegation of abuse at the juvenile facility, she said, is sent to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and to the county's inspector general. The county is very concerned about any allegations of abuse at the center, she added.

"President Stroger believes investigations of abuse would be completed much more quickly if there was a full-time investigator on site," she explained. "We will be hiring someone in the very near future."

The county is also moving forward on a nationwide search to hire a new juvenile detention center superintendent, and Stroger supports transferring control of the center to the county's chief judge, she added.



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