ACLU and Cook County Agree on Plan to Improve Chronic Conditions at IL Juvenile Detention Center

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
October 2, 2002 12:00 am

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CHICAGO–Young persons detained at the nation’s largest juvenile detention center should see marked improvement in the conditions of their confinement as a result of a court-enforceable agreement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois announced today.

“This agreement presents a genuine and historic opportunity to fix a chronic problem in Cook County,” said Benjamin Wolf, Associate Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois. “Many of these concerns have been identified for years. This new cooperative arrangement provides the best chance to address these conditions, working with the court, officials at the Detention Center and the new independent monitors.”

Lawyers for Cook County and the ACLU today filed a joint request asking Federal District Court Judge John A. Nordberg to approve the agreement, mandating the development of specific, detailed plans to address chronic problems at the at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

Today’s agreement was reached after three years of protracted litigation in Jimmy Doe, et. al. v. Cook County a lawsuit brought on behalf of a class of all youngsters housed at JTDC. The suit challenges conditions and services at the facility, which handles more than 450 juveniles from Cook County each day.

Under the terms of the agreement, County officials promise to develop and implement improvements in a number of areas, including: physical and mental health care, overcrowding at the facility, discipline and authority, as well as nutrition and sanitation.

Both sides also agreed to select one or more independent monitors to oversee the implementation of the reforms. The monitors will have access to the facility, as well as applicable records and information, to insure the court, the plaintiffs and Cook County officials that the plan is being implemented as developed.

Judge Nordberg will hold a hearing to assess the fairness and efficacy of the agreement. If approved, the County must develop a more detailed implementation plan within 90 days.

Juveniles charged with delinquency or facing criminal counts in adult court are held before trial at the center. Over several years, problems at the facility have emerged in a series of media exposes and organizational reports. In 1998, for example, a panel of experts from the John Howard Association criticized the facility for overcrowding and excessive, arbitrary punishment of juveniles.

The lawsuit, filed by lawyers of the ACLU of Illinois, asserted that these problems had not been addressed and found additional fault with sanitation at the detention center, the availability of health care and mental health care services for juveniles, the arbitrary and excessive use of “room confinement” as punishment, violence in the facility, understaffing and generally poor management.

At the center of today’s agreement is the promise to develop an “Implementation Plan” by Cook County. The plan will establish specific tasks, timetables, goals, programs, plans, strategies and protocols to assure that the center meets commonly accepted standards of care.

In addition, Cook County officials promise to implement new hiring, training and supervision practices to insure that members of the facility’s staff can implement the agreement in an efficient and effective fashion.

Thomas F. Geraghty, Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at the Northwestern University School of Law, served as the court-approved adult representative of the young men and women in the case.

“I am delighted that the ACLU and the County have worked so constructively together to fashion this settlement,” said Geraghty, a recognized expert in juvenile justice. “There are many challenges ahead, however. The work of the monitors will be crucial to ensure that necessary changes in the management of the Detention Center are made.”

Specific areas of concern to be addressed on behalf of juveniles housed at the detention center include: Physical and Mental Health Care; Social and Recreational Programming; Environmental Health and Safety; Preventing Overcrowding; Discipline and Grievance Systems; and Security.

In addition, the agreement calls for a plan to assure adequate access to educational programs for those juveniles housed in the center.

“For all of us, the difficult work begins today,” added Wolf. “We now face the difficult task of developing, implementing and monitoring these plans in order to protect the health and safety of the juveniles at the detention center.”

Alexander Dimitrief, Barry Irwin, Paul R. Steadman and Colby Kingsbury in the Chicago office of the law firm Kirkland & Ellis serve as cooperating counsel working with the ACLU of Illinois to represent the children in the lawsuit.

Michael Jacobs of the Cook County State’s Attorney Office represented the interests of County.

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