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Report by watchdog group alleges 'inhumane,' 'unjust' treatment of youth at Cook County Juvenile Detention Center

Shanzeh Ahmad and A.D. Quig, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — A new report released by a watchdog group said some youths felt “fear,” “hopelessness,” and “like dogs” when physical restraint was used at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center as the group called for the detention center and an alternative high school to be shut down.

Equip for Equality, a nonprofit and the federally appointed watchdog for people with disabilities in Illinois, released the 96-page report after spending 1,000 hours at the juvenile detention center and school interviewing students, staff and administrators from November 2021 to January of this year.

Equip for Equality Managing Attorney Rachel Shapiro told the Tribune on Friday the most “eye-opening thing” she learned when talking to youth at the detention center, was the use of physical restraint.

“The way it was described, two students said it made them feel like dogs, and just the hopelessness and the fear that these students were expressing when we would interview them and just how commonplace it seemed to be because they were matter of fact in saying that they’ve witnessed restraints in which people were injured ... that part of the report speaks to me the most because it is so sad to imagine being treated that way,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro said other recommendations in the report needing to be considered are better oversight and coordination between agencies that have the ability to audit the detention center and proper and detailed documentation of any incidents that occur in the detention center and school.

The report, titled “Youth in Crisis: Stop Civil Rights Violations against Vulnerable Students with Disabilities at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center and Its Alternative School,” includes findings and detailed recommendations for improvements needing to be made at the detention center and Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative High School beyond the group’s ultimate ask of complete shutdown.


The ask then includes moving the youth to “smaller, community-based settings,” according to the report.

“Illinois needs to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and redesigning and reforming the system of juvenile temporary detention centers is critical to reaching this goal,” Zena Naiditch, President and CEO of Equip for Equality, said in a statement.

“An insurmountable barrier to modernizing and reforming the state system for youth in custody is that there are too many local and state judicial entities and executive agencies that play a role in the oversight of the system,” Naiditch said in the statement. “As a result, the accountability system is ineffective and determining who is responsible is illusive.”

Key findings in the report include routine violations of students with disabilities’ civil rights at the jail and unjust and excessive use of physical restraints and seclusion, often as punishment, with disregard of state law, according to the report.


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