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Judge bucks Cook County law, says boys as young as 10 can be locked up

Thursday, October 18, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Anna Spoerre

Judge bucks Cook County law, says boys as young as 10 can be locked up

 Cook County judge on Wednesday declined to follow a new local ordinance that bans boys 12 and younger from being sent to the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, ordering that two 12-year-olds remain confined there.

Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Toomin said a state law allowing children as young as 10 to be locked up not only trumps the county ordinance under the state's constitution but also does a better job of protecting the public. Both boys have gun charges on their records, and both ran away from home after being charged.


"These minors represent a clear and present threat to society to the extent that only secure placement is appropriate," Toomin wrote in a court order. "The county's ordinance offers little aid or guidance in the processing and placement of this cohort of our minors."

Public defenders for both boys said they would appeal the ruling, but in the meantime the boys will remain in the detention center on the West Side. They appeared in court in matching maroon sweatshirts and navy sweatpants, their handcuffed hands behind their backs.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners had unanimously passed the ordinance a little more than a month ago. “Maybe this helps us understand how we get more resources to help these children be able to be stronger as they get older," the bill's sponsor, Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, told the Sun-Times last month.

Suffredin did not answer phone calls and an email late Wednesday afternoon. A spokeswoman for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she had not seen the judge’s order and couldn’t comment.

The two boys were both arrested on suspicion of armed robbery, among other charges, and were initially released on electronic monitoring. Shortly after the ordinance was passed, they were ordered to the detention center because they repeatedly damaged their electronic monitors and ran away, according to court records.

Their lawyers filed an emergency petition Oct. 4, arguing the decision violated county law. The ordinance, they contended, "provides a stronger protection for a minor's liberty than the (state) Juvenile Court Act."

In his ruling, Toomin called the detention of young children one that "has long been a daunting task confronting our judiciary." But he argued that the county law makes the judges' jobs more "problematic" because it provides no "viable alternative" to incarceration.

The assumption that facilities already exist for children who pose a public threat "is far removed from reality," he said. A judge who sent one of the boys to the detention center even called on the County Board "to find some form of secure placement ... as an alternative to the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center."

While the number of young juveniles who are detained is relatively small, Toomin contended that does not take away the need for a secure facility for children as young as 10, calling them "heavy hitters."

"Although a minimal number of juveniles adjudicated by our court are under the age of 13, the few that do appear before our judges are often heavy hitters facing charges of armed robbery and other serious felonies," he wrote.

Before the boys were detained, they were fitted with electronic monitors and placed with their parents or a shelter. "Unfortunately, as with petitioners, an inordinate number persist in destroying their monitoring devices and absconding the jurisdiction of our court," Toomin said.

READ MORE: Giving Chicago juveniles in detention a glimpse of a different future »

None of the 15 Juvenile Court judges, he added, "subscribe to the notion that detention is an appropriate placement for young minors."

But there are cases, like the 12-year-olds, when it's determined that boys are not only a threat to the public but also to themselves, Toomin said. So detention can also offer protection, he contended.

A judge who handled one of the boys' cases said following the county ordinance and keeping the boy out of the detention center "would be creating a 12-year-old who is at liberty to ignore his mother, at liberty to ignore the court and put himself in extreme danger."

The judge in the other case noted how the boy repeatedly ran away and "was not acting in his best interest, and God only knew what he may get into."

Toomin concluded, "If the concept of public protection heralded in our Juvenile Court Act means anything, it must ensure that where detention is foreclosed, as the ordinance indeed mandates, there must be a viable alternative. That alternative is presently missing from the equation."


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