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Juvenile detainees quiz Preckwinkle about her jail plans

Monday, August 20, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

They’re too young to vote — and probably not the first endorsement most politicians would seek.

But teenage inmates seemed to like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s plan to tear down the West Side juvenile jail they’re locked up in.

Preckwinkle — who in March said she’d like to “blow . . . up” the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center — reiterated that desire during a visit Monday afternoon.

The juvenile jail housed 800 alleged young offenders a decade ago, but it’s now down toabout 250, according to Preckwinkle, who would like to replace the jail with four to six smaller, regional centers that would aloow detainees to stay closer to home and to learn in smaller groups.

“How we make that happen is yet to be determined,” she told a class of 18 inmates.

Inmates in the class quizzed the former high school history teacher and alderman about her plans for the jail and her career, but they seemed confused about what an alderman is.

Though inmates as young as 17 can be transferred to adult jail in Cook County, Preckwinkle told them that she would prefer inmates under 21 to be treated differently.

She said that the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of prison inmates and argued that too many prisoners are locked up for too long for nonviolent offences.

Preckwinkle later told reporters that prisons exist “at the intersection of racism and poverty,” citing the disproportionate number of black and Latino arrestees in Cook County and describing the criminal justice system as “flawed.”

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