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Juvenile center agrees to outside review

Friday, September 16, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by ABDON M. PALLASCH Staff Reporter

Embattled bosses at Cook County's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center agreed Thursday to let national experts come in, review the center and recommend reforms.

Under fire from County Board members and from stories in the Sun-Times and other media about mistreatment of detainees at the center, President John Stroger and administrators at the center have accepted an offer from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation to perform a review at no cost to the county.

Board members held a hearing Thursday to question Stroger, Public Safety Director J.W. Fairman and new Supt. Jerry Robinson about allegations of abuse against detainees; jobs being filled with patronage hires with arrest records instead of qualified professionals; staff helping themselves to food, overtime and other perks.

Any such misbehavior was in the past -- three months ago before Robinson came on board, Robinson said.

"Have you not seen what other people have seen: staff standing around, kids not engaged, watching television?" Commissioner Forrest Claypool asked, echoing other board members who toured the center. "Is that just a coincidence -- all these observations from a dozen different people? Did you not see it?"

'Increased transparency' sought

"When I first got there, yes I did," Robinson said. But he said he made changes. "I hold the supervisors accountable. The [detainees'] days are planned from the time they get up at 6 a.m. until they go to bed at 8:30. Some juveniles -- not all -- come back there because they get better treatment there than they do in their regular homes . . . more attention, more medical care, more direction."

"There were some people out there that were abusing kids," Fairman conceded. But he laid down the law when he got there two years ago, he said. "Some people were saying, 'You can't put your hands on a kid because Fairman's going to fire you.' I was pretty hard on them."

Mike Mahoney of the John Howard Association, a monitor appointed by a federal judge hearing the ACLU's case against the center, likewise said he had seen recent improvements.

"Do you have a problem with the way these [allegations of abuse] incidents are reported?" board member Tony Peraica said.

"Yes, up until four months ago," he said. "It was rectified. We now get a monthly survey that goes to the ACLU and the two monitors."

'Transparency demanded

Robinson and Fairman said board members' suggestion to require bachelor's degrees instead of just two years of college would make it tougher to fill jobs.

Ben Wolf, the ACLU attorney who sued the county over conditions at the center, said he wished the Casey Foundation well, but, "I will caution them as I've cautioned many other fine consultants who have been eaten alive there over the years," Wolf said: If the county government controls the documents and the review process, it will be hard to force any changes.

Robinson and Fairman pledged full cooperation with Casey's experts, who demand "increased transparency" from the center as part of the deal.


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