Outside administrator takes over juvenile center
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
by Mickey Ciokajlo
An outside administrator with broad powers took over the troubled Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center on Tuesday and predicted it would take at least two years to fix the problems there.
U.S. District Judge John Nordberg's appointment of Earl Dunlap, a recognized national expert in juvenile justice, was the result of negotiations between the county and the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sought to have a receiver take complete control of the center.
Both the ACLU and County Board President Todd Stroger hailed the selection of Dunlap, whose appointment is effective immediately, and highlighted the powers the judge has granted to him.
"Nobody has had the authority before now to come in from the outside and take administrative control of the place, and hire and fire and move staff around and tell people what to do," said Benjamin Wolf, a lawyer with the ACLU. "This is a very different step. This is a court-appointed official with the authority to bring the place into compliance with basic standards."
Dunlap said the management of the facility has grown more and more dysfunctional over the years because "nobody has been empowered to change it."
"In this situation, you start at the beginning," Dunlap said of his role. "Nobody really knows who's in charge of what."
The judge imposed no time limit on the appointment, but Dunlap said that he expects it will take at least two years for him to turn around the juvenile center.
Critics of the center have cited allegations of abuse, staff shortages, unsanitary conditions, violence and insufficient mental-health services as among the center's biggest problems in recent years.
Earlier this year, Stroger agreed to relinquish control of the center to the county's chief judge, Timothy Evans. Legislation authorizing the move was approved by the Illinois General Assembly and awaits the governor's signature.
As a result, Dunlap's title is "transitional administrator." He is expected to bring the center into full compliance with previous agreements and plans approved by the federal court, which has jurisdiction through a lawsuit the ACLU filed in 1999.Stroger said improving conditions for children at the center is a top priority. "Mr. Dunlap brings with him decades of experience and knowledge, and a unique perspective in the reform process," he said in a statement.
Nordberg's order gives Dunlap power over personnel decisions, finances and the authority to craft the center's budget for next year.
Stroger must accept Dunlap's budget proposal. If Dunlap recommends spending more than 10 percent over 2007 levels, his budget would go directly to the County Board. If the board rejects his budget, Dunlap can appeal to the federal judge.
Dunlap, 60, is the chief executive officer of the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, a non-profit collaborative of four nationally recognized organizations. He lives in Downstate Effingham but expects to spend three to four days a week working at the Chicago facility.
County officials said a lawyer for one of the employee unions objected in court to provisions of the order that grant Dunlap wide latitude over personnel decisions. Nordberg told the lawyer he could file a motion to intervene at a later date, but the judge did not allow the objection to derail the order or Dunlap's appointment.