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Monitors question reporting of fights at juvenile center

Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Jeff Coen

There have been dozens of violent incidents at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in recent months, including some involving staff members, and two court-appointed monitors of the troubled facility say questions remain about how the incidents are handled and recorded.

The data on the incidents turned over by the center are missing information and contain discrepancies, the monitors said. In some cases in which staff members' names were mentioned, it is unclear if the notation is because they filed the report or because they were involved in alleged abuse, said Charles Fasano of the watchdog John Howard Association.

The monitors' reports have been delivered in recent days to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which entered into an agreement with the county in 2003 to settle a 1999 federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the center's residents. The court agreement mandated reforms, but the monitors' reports confirm the ACLU's contention that the county and center are not in compliance with that agreement, said Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director of the ACLU of Illinois.

"They still have no supervisory system that can identify staff members involved in the abuse of children and take action against them," said Wolf, who added that he has forwarded the reports to the U.S. District Judge John Nordberg, who is overseeing the case.

Monitor Michael J. Mahoney, an independent consultant, reported that information he has received from the center shows there have been 348 fights reported there since April and 324 residents have had to be physically restrained as a result.

The number of fights is a cause for concern, as is the organization of the data, Mahoney said.

"It is commendable and helpful that center staff now compile and distribute this important data," Mahoney said in his report. "However, the missing information and reports limit the accuracy and utilization."

The center's superintendent, Jerry Robinson, acknowledged problems with the reports.

The reports "don't give a full picture of who was involved and what time they responded and those things," Robinson said, but he hopes to have software installed in computers by the end of the year that will make them consistent and clearer.

Mahoney noted there were 64 incidents on a September tracking sheet provided by the center that were missing from later reports he received. Many were missing documentation of whether a proper hearing was held concerning accusations against youths, he reported.

"In September 2005 every youth subject to the formal discipline system was found guilty of the charged offense and spent some time in confinement," Mahoney wrote. "Interviews with youth indicate that in most cases a caseworker is conducting a hearing, but the documentation is lacking as to the time of the hearing. There is no evidence that youth are calling witnesses or have an advocate present."

Among those cases, 56 youths were confined for 36 hours, Mahoney wrote, and two were confined for 48 hours.

Fasano said Robinson is taking steps to improve the center and has called for key staff vacancies to be filled, particularly in the area of health services.

Fasano's report included a breakdown of incidents by area of the center, including fights and alleged assaults. The analysis showed that some areas that house residents classified as less-aggressive had as many or more fights than those housing youths classified as highly aggressive.

Robinson said he would consider the findings to determine if changes should be made.

Malcolm Young, the new executive director of the John Howard, said it needs to be clear which staffers are accused of abusing residents so patterns can be detected.

He likened an abuse report without a staff member's name attached to it to a police officer on the street who puts tape over his badge number.

"It's just a hint of why you need that," Young said. "We should be able to go right back and ask the questions and find out what happened."

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