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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

“By not following the law and or their own policies and relying heavily on the use of physical restraints, the JTDC is causing these vulnerable youth even more trauma and despair,” Olga Pribyl, vice president of Equip for Equality’s Special Education Rights Clinic, said in the statement.

“I’m hopeful that our leaders take the necessary steps to transition to a positive community-based model,” Pribyl said in the statement.

Other findings included in the report are the special education system at the jail being “grossly inadequate” as 30 to 50% of youth enter as special education students as well as problems occurring at 15 other local juvenile detention centers with calls on local government officials to have these places be monitored in-depth.

A statement from Chicago Public Schools about the report said the district is “committed to providing high-quality instruction and educational experiences to all students in every school, including our alternative schools.”

The district said in the statement there are “concerns about the validity and reliability of the data” in the report, and the district has provided feedback to the nonprofit on the findings and recommendations and “will continue to work with Equip for Equality to ensure students receive the services they need and that accurate information is shared with the public.”

The alternative school is “extremely unique,” the district said, as about 80% of the total student population is enrolled for less than 45 days, while some students are only at the school for as little as two days.

“Our top priority continues to be supporting students through every resource available, including high-quality instruction, social-emotional supports, and community partnerships,” CPS said in the statement.

“Equip for Equality’s report contains several inaccurate statements which fail to sufficiently capture the great efforts our district is making to support students in our alternative schools, like increasing the number of special education teachers who can provide services, improving student credit attainment and graduation rates, and expanding community partnerships, like the one with Kennedy-King College, that allows students to earn college credit during high school.

As a district, we work with students, schools, families, and external stakeholders like EFE to create and implement student-centered systems that eliminate barriers and give students the tools they need to stay on track and engaged in school.”


Meanwhile, Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, called the report “troubling” in a statement sent Friday night.

“We have received the troubling report and will be reviewing it thoroughly in the coming days,” Preckwinkle said in the statement.

“We appreciate Equip for Equality and the Special Education Rights Clinic for their attention to issues with education in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). Though my authority does not extend to the practices of the detention center, I share in the concerns raised by this report, the JTDC Advisory Board, and the 2022 report by the Blue Ribbon Committee convened by the Office of the Chief Judge.”

“Harmful conditions and practices that hurt our young people must be urgently addressed. It is my goal to join in with other stakeholders to reimagine juvenile detention, centering best practices and the unique needs of children,” she said in the statement.

“This work should allow Cook County to get to a place where structures like the JTDC are obsolete. Cook County is committed to evidence-based, human-centered juvenile justice reform and investment that prevents initial and repeat involvement with the system,” Preckwinkle said in the statement.

“We must do better by at-risk children including those who become involved in the legal system. It is imperative that we work together to ensure the safety, care and effective rehabilitation of these children.”


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