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Guv gets bill to shift power over youth detention center

Thursday, May 24, 2007
Daily Law Bulletin
by Bethany Krajelis

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation for the chief judge to take over administration of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center is headed to the governor's desk.
Juvenile justice advocates contend that transferring responsibility for the center from the county board will force the facility to meet standards that other detention centers statewide have been required to meet for years.
An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union warned, however, that the legislation is not a ''magic bullet.''
Under the County Shelter Care and Detention Home Act, circuit courts throughout the state are required to administrate county detention centers. Cook County was given an exemption in 1991 that gave the authority to the Cook County Board. If the governor signs the legislation, which the Senate unanimously approved Tuesday, that exemption would be removed.
The Cook County facility has been the focus of a federal lawsuit since 1999, when the ACLU alleged poor conditions and mistreatment of detainees.
As a result, The Chicago Bar Association formed a blue-ribbon committee to look into the center's problems and the panel ultimately recommended the transfer.
Elizabeth E. Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative of Illinois, said that for detention centers to be reimbursed by the state, employees are required to have a college degree and extensive training.
Because of Cook County's exemption, however, the county has ''never had to adhere to the same standards,'' Clarke said. She added that the legislation would require that the center's administrator and employees be more knowledgeable in the field — and committed to reform.
''It's a positive change, but it won't solve all the problems,'' said Benjamin S. Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU of Illinois.
He said the center has not yet fulfilled obligations that were mandated by court orders. Wolf said the ACLU is currently ''evaluating what actions need to take place,'' adding that going back to federal court is one option.
Wolf said he also has concerns that the Cook County Board will maintain control over the center's budget. The Cook County chief judge's office would have administrative control over funds, though subject to board approval.
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger testified in support of the measure at a March hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said a transfer would allow the detention center to seek more state funding and save the county administrative costs.
''While Cook County is in an excellent position to restore the [center] to its earlier position of prominence in the juvenile justice community, I believe the passage of this legislation can only help make that goal become a reality,'' Stroger told the committee.
Under the measure, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, or a circuit judge designated by him, would appoint a new superintendent of the detention center within six months of the Jan. 1, 2008, effective date.
Evans did not return a phone call seeking comment by early Wednesday afternoon.
The Senate passed House Bill 236 on a vote of 55-0 without any debate. The House passed the measure 116-0 in late March.
Legislation can be found on the General Assembly's Web site at www.ilga.gov.



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