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Recruiting a savior

Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

Official reports detailing problems at Cook County's deeply troubled detention center for juveniles have become as regular as a metronome.

Another such report came earlier this month. This audit, ordered in February by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, looked at the facility's finances and found ... you guessed it, more problems.
Problems accounting for employee attendance and overtime. Problems paying bills on time. Problems ordering adequate supplies, such as clothing for kids. Problems finding policies guiding financial operations. Problems following what few financial policies actually exist.

The only surprise about this audit was that it didn't find anything worse.

Despite what minor improvements have been made in recent months, the place remains a damaging, mismanaged mess of a place for youth.

The Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center today stands at a crossroads. On Tuesday, state lawmakers sent to the governor a bill to shift control of the center from Stroger to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

That's a relief.

Evans has an opportunity to take a patronage pit and turn it into a professional operation, a model for juvenile justice. He says his office has started to work with experts, such as the respected Casey Foundation, to assess what's needed.

That's good. How he handles this will go a long way to defining his tenure as the leader of the Circuit Court.

The most important task ahead is to find a qualified, competent, hard-charging, no-nonsense person (who happens to care and know something about working with troubled kids) to run the place. Evans needs to find a superstar.

Give credit to the legislature for responding to the overwhelming evidence that the only way to change the culture of the juvenile center would be to strip it from the politicians who let it deteriorate. Judge Evans, make the best of it.

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