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Audit reveals chaos at jail

Thursday, May 10, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Timecards? What timecards?
Inventory control? What’s that?
And managing overtime? Forget it.
That, essentially was the finding Wednesday in an audit of Cook County’s Juvenile Detention Center, which has long had the reputation of a place where anything not nailed down walked out the door, often leaving the juvenile residents there without educational materials or clean clothes.
County officials didn’t admit that wholesale theft has been going on, but the audit found that the lack of financial controls at the center make such conduct very inviting.
“That does allow the possibility of financial irregularities to occur,” said auditor Laura A. Burman, who released the report Wednesday with Cook County Board President Todd H. Stroger.
Stroger said the audit is proof that he has begun to make changes in county government, but the ACLU, which currently has a court-ordered monitor at the juvenile facility said it’s time to stop producing reports and start making real changes.
Among the findings of the audit: There are almost no inventory controls for supplies at the facility and never any periodic inventory counts. Night staffers, for example, can access the storeroom without supervision.
“Those (lack of controls) led to shortages and deficiencies,” said Jennifer Koehler, a top-level Stroger staffer who is being assigned to the facility full time to institute some of the financial controls the audit recommended.
Also, the audit found, individual time cards the employees were supposed to be filling out for the past three years are never used. Instead, they sign a log-in sheet and a supervisor creates a payroll form from that, leaving the employee unaccountable if irregularities are discovered, which is not likely since payroll sheets are seldom verified.
Stroger said the county is moving toward a card-swipe system at the center to help curb abuses, but Berman said the facility still needs to address the possibility that employees might try to swipe in and out for one another.
While no one was surprised at the audit’s findings, some took slight comfort that the administration is at least admitting problems.
“I think that this is acknowledging the sins and the problems of the center,” said Commissioner Mike Quigley.
But, he added, “the bottom line is nothing has changed, (and there has been) minimal progress on all counts.”
Ben Wolf, associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, called for decisive action.
“We’ve had countless reports and audits describe the chaos and incompetence. … What we need is a change in the level of commitment in the county building, and no independent audit is going to do that,” he said. “They still can’t consistently get clean underwear to the kids.”
Stroger said more improvements should come with the passage of legislation that will transfer control of the facility from his office to the office of Cook County’s chief judge, Tim Evans.
A bill mandating that has cleared the Illinois House and is pending in the Senate.

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