Among the damning findings of a 96-page report on the Cook County Temporary Detention Center for Juveniles is that physical restraints and forced solitary confinement are routinely used alongside mental health services and educational support for young people with special learning needs are not, as required by law.
The recent report by education advocacy organization Equip for Equality, which also reviewed Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative High School (a Chicago public school located in the detention center), concluded that far from supporting or to assist vulnerable youth in detention and in custody county care, conditions and practices inside the JTDC are actively harming them.
The Equip report, released in March, marked the second time in nine months that an independent observer has drawn alarming conclusions about conditions inside the JTDC. But this is far from the first – or even the second – time authorities have been put on notice that Cook County is doing a dismal job of caring for the children held at the facility at 1100 S. Hamilton. Ave.
For decades, adverse and abusive conditions within the JTDC have been documented, including as recently as last August, with the release of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s latest report finding that juvenile detainees were subjected to “dirty” conditions. ‘isolation and deprivation’.
Unfortunately, Superintendent Leonard Dixon and Chicago Public Schools officials have consistently failed to acknowledge the reality or gravity of the situation, or address the real concerns with meaningful solutions. In his response to the recent report by Equip for Equality, the superintendent expressed his mistaken view that the JTDC is not rehabilitative in nature and therefore its stewards have no responsibility to rehabilitate young people who may not staying there only for short periods.
Detention centers are inherently traumatic, and Dixon’s perspective highlights the particularly harmful environment of the JTDC. As Equip notes, residents of the facility “are among the most vulnerable young people in Cook County, many of whom have experienced significant trauma and abuse as part of their daily existence.” Many of them also have unaddressed disabilities, compounded by the lack of services and supports in the communities they often come from.
It should also be noted that two-thirds of youth inmates at JTDC are black, which amplifies concerns about fairness and justice in a justice system that in recent years has been committed to eliminating racial inequalities from the system. criminal justice.
For too many years, leaders have been committed to eradicating these and other related problems. Last October, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans promised a list of “improvements” including reducing confinement and increasing mental health and trauma care. Still, the problems Evans promised to fix remain highlighted in the Equip for Equality report.
In the long term, we believe that the only real way to address these issues is to close the JTDC and reinvest in meaningful community social services that meet the needs of young people in the criminal justice system in their neighborhoods.
In the meantime, however, interim solutions should include:
- Installing a new superintendent who understands the importance of addressing the wellness, mental health and educational needs of young inmates.
- Force Jefferson School to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the legal mandate to protect the educational needs of children with disabilities.
- Require the county to provide up-to-date and accurate data regarding the conditions of confinement and the educational, therapeutic, vocational and other rehabilitative services provided to all juvenile detainees.
- Securing passage of a bill to create an ombudsman for the JTDC and other detention centers in Illinois.
Any individual, institution or government agency that assumes the responsibility of caring for young people, especially those in need, should be interested in providing them with rehabilitation solutions, regardless of the length of time the young people are in their care. Call it what you want, it’s the human response. And all of Cook County’s children and youth deserve this.
Julie Biehl is a professor of law and director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Bruce Boyer is co-director of the Civitas ChildLaw Center at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law. Nicole Negrete is co-director of the Final 5 campaign, a statewide coalition working to shut down all youth prisons in Illinois.
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