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Enough with committees. Chief Judge Evans must take action to improve Cook County juvenile jail.
Our 2022 report makes 15 recommendations to the chief judge on how to improve the JTDC’s treatment of youth. Evans could order many of these changes now, without waiting for another committee report.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Chicago Sun-Times
by Eugene Griffin

This fall, teenagers throughout Cook County are busy with classes, sports, activities and socializing. Unfortunately, it appears that youth at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center — under the direction of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans — will spend yet another year without such opportunities, despite the center’s mandate to foster their rehabilitation and development.

Evans is responsible for the JTDC, which has a dismal history of overcrowding and poor living conditions. Under federal court supervision from 2007 to 2015, the JTDC improved. But since then, under the control of Evans, care of the 150 detained youth has stagnated.

Evans has been good at appointing “blue ribbon” committees to give him recommendations for improvement, but he has failed at implementation. Three times since 2015, he convened committees of experts in juvenile justice, clinical services, education and adolescent development to assess the JTDC and advise him regarding best practices.

I chaired the most recent Blue Ribbon Committee in 2021-22, and we found that the chief judge allowed years to go by without enacting the recommendations of previous committees. Evans received our report in May and was silent until August, when he announced that he had formed yet another committee to look at our Blue Ribbon Committee’s report.

Enough with the committees.It’s more than past time to implement changes to help youth in the JTDC.

Our committee expressed significant concerns regarding the JTDC’s over-reliance on isolation and deprivational room confinement. The teenagers in the JTDC spend most of the day, every day, locked alone in small cells with only a mattress and toilet.They have no pen or pencil, no chair or desk and not even a pillow. The JTDC locks up youth 12 hours a day for “sleep time.” During the other 12 hours, youth can be locked up for additional reasons, including administrative convenience. And the JTDC does not report to anyone the total number of hours youth spend in their cells.

Members of our committee noted that even short-term use of isolation can cause serious harm to youth, especially those already struggling with mental health issues.

Additional findings from our May 2022 report include:

  • The JTDC does not meet its duty to rehabilitate and help high-risk youth.
  • The JTDC’s school prioritizes order and conformity rather than a quality education. It needs to offer significantly more vocational training.
  • The JTDC does not engage families of youth.
  • The JTDC does not provide sufficient programming for females, LGBTQ+, mentally Ill, substance-abusing, traumatized or developmentally challenged youth.
  • The JTDC’s physical structure should be replaced with smaller, community-based facilities.

Our 2022 report makes 15 recommendations to the chief judge on how to improve the JTDC’s treatment of youth. Evans could order many of these changes now, without waiting for another committee report.

For example, he could immediately start moving groups out of the JTDC, such as young women, LGBTQ+, and developmentally challenged youth. Each group makes up a small percentage of the JTDC population, has distinct clinical issues and would be better served in specialized programs. Community providers with relevant expertise already exist. Such placements could quickly improve the care these youth receive and begin the process of moving all youth out of the current outmoded facility into more appropriate placements with programming and educational support.

These needed changes to the care of detained youth can only be initiated by the chief judge. For years now, Evans has been saying that he wanted the JTDC to focus on the rehabilitation and healthy development of adolescents. Yet for years the JTDC has failed to do that.

Now is the time for the chief judge to stop turning his back on these youth and give them a better chance.

Eugene Griffin is a clinical psychologist and attorney who worked in the fields of child trauma, child welfare, children’s mental health, and juvenile justice. He formerly served as project co-director of The Center for Child Trauma Assessment, Services and Interventions at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.



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