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A sad, predictable process

Friday, September 09, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by Benjamin Wolf
Letter to the Editor

Cook County Board President John Stroger's attempt to ''clarify'' procedures for conducting criminal background checks of employees at the county's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center [letters, Aug. 31] contains a further error. Stroger mistakenly accuses me of failing to cooperate fully in investigations of alleged abuse by staff at the facility. This assertion continues a sad, predictable process in which Cook County officials seek to blame others for the continuing woeful conditions at the center.

It is true that some juveniles held at the center have told me and other lawyers about specific allegations of abuse by staff at the facility. The physical abuse we have heard described is cruel, dangerous and unnecessary to ensure safety within the facility. These conversations with our clients, as Stroger certainly must know, are protected by attorney-client privilege, and we are bound to follow the direction of these clients. In many instances, juveniles held at the center direct us not to tell the county about specific incidents of abuse, fearing retribution by staff who go undisciplined after such reports are made to appropriate officials.

This fear is underscored by one recent incident in which this office had express permission to disclose the name of a staff person who was alleged to have engaged in physical abuse and sexual harassment at the facility. In that instance, leaders at the center have not contacted us -- as counsel for the individual making the complaint -- about any discipline they have imposed or about the status of any internal investigation. As far as we know, no action has been taken by the county to follow up on a very specific, very credible claim of abuse.

The county's fault here is part of a continuing failure of leadership with regard to improving conditions at the center. More than two years ago, the county reached an understanding with the ACLU of Illinois to improve conditions at the center, ending litigation that we launched in 1999. One element of that agreement was reform of the way that staff is hired, trained and managed at the center. Stroger and other county officials have failed to develop and implement this new policy. Doing so will help to protect the juveniles housed at the center. Casting aspersions at their lawyers will not.

Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director,
American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois

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