Judge assails ‘haywire’ situation at youth jail.
Friday, June 01, 2007
by Rob Olmstead
A federal judge said Thursday “something is haywire” at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and he wants the county to explain in writing why it shouldn’t give up control of the facility.
U.S. District Court Judge John A. Nordberg made his comments after hearing arguments by lawyers for advocates of the juveniles at the center. They asked the court to take administration of the center away from the county temporarily before someone gets killed due to what they called the county’s incompetence.
The county’s attorney, Patrick Blanchard responded that those claims are “inaccurate” and “sensationalistic.”
Nordberg didn’t immediately rule for the advocates, and he asked pointed questions of both sides. But he seemed to indicate he believed statements made by the children’s lawyers, many of which went undisputed by the county.
In particular, Nordberg interrupted Blanchard as he began to state what has become the county’s mantra for the past eight years since American Civil Liberties lawyers first took up the case on behalf of inmates of the center: things are getting better.
Nordberg wanted to know what Blanchard had to say about a very specific charge ACLU lawyer Harvey Grossman leveled.
“We saw a kid on April 25th who could have killed himself … and it would have been the county’s fault,” said Grossman.
Grossman told Nordberg he and others went to the center on an inspection and the youth. Grossman had been admitted weeks prior under the clear indication that he had mental problems and was to take psychotropic medications, but hadn’t ever received any medication.
“The ability to provide medication for … prisoners, seems to me, doesn’t require a huge budget, doesn’t require a very complicated setup,” Nordberg told Blanchard. “You could see that that could be a very serious risk to the youth … I don’t see an indication that that’s been solved.”
Blanchard responded by saying that Grossman and others support the county’s recent hiring of an outside staff of mental health experts, but Nordberg cut him short.
“I’m just talking about this one specific situation,” Nordberg said. “The indication is that the staff doesn’t make a note of it (mental health problems or medication needs.) … Something is haywire and the life of that individual is at risk.”
Blanchard finally pleaded ignorance to the specifics of the incident, and pledged to look into it.
Nordberg ordered the county to file a written response to the allegations by June 15 and to attend a hearing by June 21 where, he indicated, he will most likely set a date for the evidentiary hearings the ACLU has requested.
The ACLU lawyers and pro bono lawyers from Kirkland and Ellis represent Thomas Geraghty, who was appointed “next friend” of the children in 1999 after a class-action suit by residents there. At that time, the county signed a settlement agreeing to changes, but lawyers came back again last year, alleging the county wasn’t living up to its promises.
Staff members were still beating and abusing children and not providing them with proper care or clothing, they said. Again, last year, the county signed another agreement pledging to change things. Geraghty maintains the county has run out of chances and an outside expert, with authority to fire bad staff members, must be brought in.