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Preckwinkle: ‘Blow up’ juvenile jail and put kids in smaller regional centers

Saturday, March 10, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Friday she’d like to “blow ... up” the juvenile jail on the West Side and house troubled kids in smaller regional centers.

Preckwinkle was responding to a report issued Friday by the Jane Addams Juvenile Court Foundation and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Asked if she agreed with the report’s recommendation that the juvenile detention center be closed, Preckwinkle said: “Of course. I said that from the beginning. I think I said we should blow it up.”

She’s not the first to say it — for years now Juvenile Temporary Detention Center chief Earl Dunlap has argued that regional group homes would provide smaller settings for troubled kids and keep them closer to home.

“It’s what I want to do eventually,” Preckwinkle told reporters at an unrelated event downtown Friday. “It’s just not tomorrow.”

Asked why it couldn’t happen sooner, Preckwinkle said: “There’s 300 kids and we have no other place to put them.”

Preckwinkle has been pushing for reforms in the county-funded criminal justice system, which includes the adult jail at 26th and California and the juvenile center at 1100 S. Hamilton. One of her goals is to put non-violent suspects on home monitoring.

Preckwinkle says 43 percent of the youths admitted to the juvenile detention center – a facility for 10- to 16-year-olds awaiting trial in the juvenile system — are only there for a week or less.

“Put people in jail who are a danger to the society. If they’re there for a week, clearly they’re not a danger to society or we wouldn’t let them out after a week,” she said, adding that it “doesn’t make sense.”

Dunlap said the regional centers would “still be secured, locked facilities.”

“The issue is this, the current facility is old, antiquated facility and it’s not safe — you’ve got ceilings caving in, you’ve got plumbing problems all the time,” Dunlap said.

He said the awkward configuration of the building, too, means more staff for supervising the youths and that’s expensive.

Last fall, Preckwinkle said it costs more to house a child at the juvenile jail — by her count $600 a day or $224,000 annually — than to shell out the $52,000 for a year’s worth of tuition, room and board at Harvard.



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