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Advocate requests county control of juvenile center end

Thursday, May 31, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Enough is enough.
Cook County government has made such a mess of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center -- having blown repeated chance after chance to change its ways -- that the facility should be run by someone else altogether, a court-appointed advocate for the children asserted in court papers this week.
The county maintains it's making progress.
In a 22-page memorandum backed by hundreds of pages of reports, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Benjamin Wolf and attorneys from Kirkland and Ellis -- all representing Thomas Geraghty, the court-appointed "Next Friend" of the center's children -- asked federal Judge John Nordberg to take the county out of the equation by appointing a receiver to run the center.
"Nothing less than the appointment of a receiver can reasonably ensure that in the future, Next Friend Geraghty will not come before this court to report the death of a youngster caused by physical abuse or a completed suicide," stated the motion filed late Tuesday and released to the media Wednesday.
Geraghty, a Northwestern University School of Law professor, was appointed by the court in 1999 to represent the children's best interests in a class-action lawsuit filed by former residents. Since that time, the county voluntarily entered into a memorandum of agreement in December 2002 that outlined changes the county would take to improve conditions.
After highly publicized reports of beatings and abuse by staff members, along with reports of children not having clean underwear, enough food, clothes, school supplies or medical care, Geraghty hauled the county back into court last year. This time, a supplemental order -- which the county again agreed to abide by -- was drafted.
Since that agreement, Geraghty alleges, few, if any, of the county's promises have been fulfilled.
He charged that children with mental health problems don't receive treatment, the medical facility at the center had its accreditation withdrawn earlier this year, there is a rodent problem, financial controls are almost nonexistent, abusive staff are routinely rehired and the county still has not filled an independent investigator position it agreed to in order to investigate allegations of staff abuse.
Meanwhile, the motion said, child-welfare experts at the center have been laid off for budgetary reasons.
At the same time, media reports have documented that Cook County Board President Todd Stroger has hired new media-relations staffers and taken a position from the public defender's office to retain a personal lawyer for his office.
The motion also alleges employees with clout -- such as a county commissioner's sister with no child-welfare experience -- retain their jobs at the center.
A statement issued by Stroger Wednesday evening acknowledged problems at the detention center, but denied his administration has done nothing to address them. He maintained his office is the driving force behind a move to transfer control of the center from his office to the county's chief judge, Timothy Evans.
And while Geraghty supports that move, he said that as it's currently envisioned, it still puts the same county administrators in charge of many aspects of the center, thus hampering any real chance of reform.
Geraghty and his lawyers will present their motion at 2:30 p.m. today before Nordberg.

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