Friction at youth center reportedAdministrators have become `adversarial,' monitor tells court
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
by Ofelia Casillas, Tribune staff reporter
Tribune staff reporter Mickey Ciokajlo contributed to this report
A court-appointed monitor says her relationship with administrators at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center has deteriorated during the last month, with "adversarial" officials limiting her access, slowing the flow of information and creating roadblocks.
In a report obtained by the Tribune, Brenda Welch, appointed by a federal judge in June to oversee reforms at the troubled center, described an abrupt change from the dealings she had with officials in the summer and early fall.
"The administration of the facility has significantly changed the previously cooperative working relationship to one that could be described as adversarial in nature," Welch wrote in her Nov. 1 status report.
She described policy changes in which floor supervisors and managers were instructed to escort Welch whenever she visited living units. Information was funneled through a new liaison official who has no juvenile justice experience.
Safety and hygiene problems persist, she found in her 20-page report, including residents found sleeping in residential units that were under construction, inappropriate treatment of residents by staff members, and a botched attempt to begin laundering the residents' underwear.
The center's superintendent, J.W. Fairman, vehemently denied any obstruction and said other findings captured an institution undergoing change. He said the monitor has full access for her work.
"That's absolutely not true," Fairman said. "She can talk to us any time. All she has to say is, `I have to talk to them.'"
Benjamin Wolf, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said he plans to meet with county officials to discuss a wide range of issues Wednesday. He expects to see a reform plan from a panel of outside experts as soon as this week. That plan will be presented in court.
"We will not tolerate any interference with the compliance administrator's performance of her duties," Wolf said. "We think her reports are accurate and identify the things that need to be done very clearly."
In her report, Welch criticized the appointment of Richard Scott, who came from the Public Health Department to assist with training and policy. He became Welch's liaison with leaders. "It is my opinion that the facility liaison practice has hindered my ability to conduct my duties in an effective and responsible manner," Welch said.
Welch also pointed to potential safety problems, including one instance in which sheriff's deputies were reportedly told not to respond if there were disturbances at the center. Security staffers at the center then expressed concern that they had not been trained to deal with disturbances.
Welch also noted that reports of violence continue. According to one report, residents attacked a youth with a plunger handle; other disturbances resulted in a broken television and door, and in an assault.
"I am aware of 18 allegations of abuse for the month of October," Welch wrote.
Although the center introduced a new program to try to make sure the teenagers had clean underwear, some counselors failed to follow the plan while others mixed and mishandled the laundry. In some cases there simply wasn't enough county-supplied underwear.
Welch also witnessed a troubling exchange between a staff member and a resident who wanted to be let out of his room.
After an exchange of insults, the staffer told the boy, "My gun is bigger than your gun, and I can shoot better. The bigger the family, the better the funeral."
Welch reported the incident, and the staffer was placed on administrative leave pending a disciplinary hearing, she wrote.
Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool pointed to the findings as proof that a change in management is necessary.
"I fear there has not been sufficient public outrage of the abuse of children and other crimes at the juvenile center to force the politicians in charge to do what's right," Claypool said. "Unfortunately politics and patronage continue to be the primary reasons for the existence of the juvenile center rather than as an educational and rehabilitative facility for wayward youth."
Commissioner Mike Quigley said a new county president will be able to make needed changes.
"This thing has gone bad, but it's gone bad right as we transition from one president to the other," Quigley said. "At this point in time all we can do is show this to the new president and convince him that what I've been saying for months now is still true. They need to put together a blue-ribbon panel, do a nationwide search and put the best people in charge of the facility, politics aside."