PRNewswire, June 15, 1999

ACLU Sues Cook County to Correct Deplorable Conditions Faced by Children

CHICAGO, June 15 /PRNewswire/ -- The ACLU of Illinois today sued Cook County on behalf of children at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, would compel Cook County to remedy the systematic and long standing mistreatment of young persons held at JTDC, and make the facility safe and sanitary. The lawsuit results from the dreadful and barbarous conditions at JTDC, which holds children charged with delinquency or those facing criminal counts in adult court. The complaint also names Jesse Doyle, Superintendent of the JTDC, as defendant.

The JTDC was the target of scathing criticism in a 1998 report prepared by a panel of experts from the prestigious John Howard Association. That report showed the JTDC was plagued by overcrowding and understaffing. Population at JTDC often exceeds 600 - and rises, at times, to 800 -- in a complex designed to hold fewer than 500. This overcrowding, combined with understaffing, a lack of professionalism by some staff members and neglect by the administration creates a frightening and dangerous environment for children at JTDC.

Today's lawsuit charges that the County has not implemented an effective strategy to address the serious deficiencies at the facility highlighted by a series of reports, studies and exposes over the past decade. Moreover, the suit charges that children held at the facility -- many as young as thirteen (13) -- are in jeopardy of serious illness and left unprotected from violence because of the unendurable conditions and gross mismanagement of JTDC.

The lawsuit comes at a critical moment. The U.S. House of Representatives is preparing this week to debate new legislation affecting the juvenile justice system, legislation which may result in increased populations in juvenile corrections facilities. The ACLU opposes this legislation, in part, because of the condition of juvenile facilities such as JTDC, which fail to meet the minimal standards for a youth corrections facility.

"The conditions at JTDC are absolutely heartbreaking," said Benjamin S. Wolf of the Illinois ACLU after filing the suit. "At JTDC, one sees forgotten children, denied adequate services, left unprotected from violent attacks by other youths, physically and verbally abused by cruel guards, locked in their rooms for days often for violating petty rules, and forced to live in overcrowded conditions complete with rats and cockroaches. No one can be expected to live in these conditions. However, to subject children to these circumstances is brutal and dehumanizing. They have not yet been tried, but they already are being harshly punished."

Jean Maclean Snyder, an attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago Law School , co-counsel in the suit added: "It is simply unacceptable that the administration of Cook County and JTDC has failed to make basic, human services available to these children. JTDC administrators have promised for years to correct these problems. Little has changed. These children, many of whom are being held for non-violent offenses, continue to be forced to tolerate the most unsanitary, overcrowded and perilous conditions." Specifically, the suit delineates the following conditions:

*Overcrowding -- The facility, designed for less than 500 children, regularly houses between 600 and 800.Children are forced to sleep in temporary quarters, mixing children of different ages, violent offenders with non-violent children.Because of overcrowding, the staff is not able to provide adequate oversight of the children, a circumstance that too often results in violent attacks on children. *Lack of Adequate Food -- Children at JTDC complain of inadequate food and report that the staff sometimes take what food is available for themselves.

*Lack of Educational Services -- Many children receive little or no education at JTDC.This is especially acute in times of overcrowding when children are sent to an "overflow" school that provides almost no education. Additionally, few special services are provided to children with special education needs.

*Lack of Medical Services -- Children at JTDC receive little medical attention.Medical record-keeping is poor, with records often in disarray. Youngsters do not receive prescribed medications.Children often are denied access to a doctor or a nurse when they complain of health problems. Untrained personnel often attempt to make medical decisions without consulting appropriate professionals.

*Room Confinement -- Children are routinely subjected to punishment in the form of "room confinement"in which they are locked in their rooms alone for up to five days, and denied access to education classes and exercise.The length of such punishment bears little correlation to the alleged infraction, and there is no adequate appeals process for this punishment.

*Understaffing -- JTDC is seriously understaffed.The John Howard report recommends adding more than 125 additional personnel for the complex. The union representing most of the JTDC employees also complains about serious understaffing at the facility.Mr. Doyle, JTDC Superintendent, has been cited in press reports saying the facility is adequately staffed.

*Poor Management -- Staff at JTDC is poorly managed and badly trained. The John Howard team found that the staff at JTDC believe that up to 30% of the staff should not be retained.

*Violence -- Children report that the facility is rife with violence, threats of violence and physical intimidation. Some staff abuse children and are not disciplined. Youth-on-youth violence is regularly reported, at times resulting in serious injury to children.

*Unsanitary Conditions - Physical conditions at JTDC are squalid. Children complain of the presence of rodents, cockroaches and other pests throughout the facility. One named plaintiff reports finding a mouse in his bed. The suit on behalf of four named plaintiffs seeks certification as a class representing all children held at JTDC.

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