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Jump in numbers at juvenile center may foil closing plan
Recent overnight population threatens Preckwinkle's plan to shut part of facility this year

Thursday, February 28, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne & Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's high-priority push to eventually close the troubled juvenile detention center is running up against a recent jump in the number of youths locked up there.

On Wednesday, Preckwinkle said the increase in the number of young people incarcerated at the juvenile center could be due in part to more aggressive tactics by Chicago police to make arrests in response to the violence gripping the city.

The practical impact was laid out in a recent letter to county officials by Earl Dunlap, the administrator a judge brought in more than five years ago to try to right the ship at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. He wrote that Preckwinkle's plan to save $1.3 million this year by shutting a section of the center in June likely would have to be put on hold because there are too many people housed in the lockup to reduce the staff or number of beds.

In addition, Dunlap warned that one area of the center shut last year at a savings of $2.6 million might need to be reopened if the numbers remain high.

The administrator noted that federal court orders dictate how many people can be kept in each part of the building, located in the medical district west of downtown, and how many staff members must be working for each youth detained there. "Those aren't things I can choose to overlook," Dunlap told the Tribune.

Preckwinkle challenged Dunlap's argument that the number of beds at the juvenile center need to be increased because of recent high head counts. "We will never allow the JTDC to be overcrowded or understaffed," she said at a news conference after a County Board meeting. "However, at this time the numbers have not reached the point of needing to reopen a center. The uptick in numbers in January may be the result of a record-breaking month of violence in the city of Chicago, which often leads to increased police response.

" Chicago saw 42 homicides last month, the most for a January since 2002. On Jan. 29, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was fatally shot in a park in the North Kenwood neighborhood near President Barack Obama's home, an incident that ratcheted up pressure on police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to bring the shootings under control.

Dunlap has set the ceiling for the number of youths who can now be detained at the juvenile center at 280. To safely close another part in June, he said, the "sustainable resident population" should not exceed 235.

According to juvenile center records, the overnight population of the facility averaged 266 detainees in January, following a 2012 average of 257 per night. It hit 278 the day after Hadiya's shooting, and 281, the highest overnight population of the month, Jan. 31.

The average nightly population for the first 20 days this month was 273 people, according to juvenile center records.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who is slated to take over running the juvenile center when a federal judge relieves Dunlap of his duties, said in an email that the recent "spike" in the facility's numbers is due to "an increase in juveniles being brought in on outstanding warrants and an increase in juveniles charged with unlawful use of weapons.

" Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, said he thinks the surge in violence in the city has led to a higher population at the detention center in recent months. Police make more arrests, and judges become more reluctant to put youths in alternative programs of the type Preckwinkle has championed, he said.

When crime surges, "we end up seeing more kids detained, whether or not they have committed violent crime," Wolf said. "I think sometimes there is an overreaction and they crack down on the wrong kids."

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