September 12, 2012 9:00 am

Agreement reached to improve conditions in Illinois’ juvenile justice facilities

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CHICAGO – A provisional agreement announced today will dramatically improve conditions and services for young people confined at state-run juvenile justice facilities across Illinois.  The settlement, reached in a federal class action suit filed today against the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice by youth represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, calls for the development of a specific remedial plan to fix inadequate conditions and services for youth, based on the investigation to be conducted by three independent court-appointed experts.  The Department has custody of about 1,000 youth who have been adjudicated delinquent by juvenile courts, and a legal duty to provide conditions and services adequate to rehabilitate these youth.

The provisional agreement, in the form of a court enforceable consent decree, was filed in federal district court in Chicago today.  The parties will ask the court to schedule a “fairness hearing,” and at that fairness hearing to enter and grant final approval to the class action consent decree.

“This is a starting point to providing adequate services and care, and fixing substandard conditions, at our state juvenile justice facilities,” said Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois.  “We look forward to working with the Department of Juvenile Justice to ensure that the problems facing Illinois youth will be addressed and corrected.”

The ACLU of Illinois has surveyed all of the Department’s youth centers, and interviewed scores of young people confined there.  This investigation found that the Department provides youth with inadequate services in a number of critical areas (including mental health care and education), and subjects them to dangerous and unlawful conditions (including excessive room confinement and violence).  Likewise, prior investigations by numerous outside experts found inadequacies in mental health care, education, and room confinement.  The ACLU’s complaint provides greater detail regarding these inadequate conditions and treatment.  After conducting this investigation, the ACLU filed administrative grievances on behalf of dozens of youth, and then pursued the negotiations that yielded the proposed decree.

“A root of all these problems is that the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice lacks sufficient funding and staff to provide adequate services and conditions to the large number of youth committed to the Department’s custody,” added Maja Eaton, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP who serves as the ACLU’s cooperating counsel in this case.  “As a result, young people do not get access to appropriate mental health care or educational services, and they are placed in danger by the lack of safety inside the facilities.  Given the Department’s duty to rehabilitate the young people committed to its custody, improvements must be made quickly.”

The consent decree between the State and the ACLU calls for developing a remedial plan, based on the investigation and opinions of independent court-appointed experts, to improve conditions in five areas: (1) mental health services; (2) educational services – including general education, special education, and services for youth with a high school diploma or a GED; (3) the use of room confinement; (4) safety of young people inside the facilities from violence by staff and other youth; and (5) continued commitment of youth beyond their release dates solely for lack of a community placement.  Under the agreement, the experts will review conditions in the eight juvenile justice facilities and file a report with the court 180 days after the decree is approved.   Then the parties and the experts will prepare a plan for the court’s approval.  The plan will ultimately be implemented by the Department, and monitored by the court-appointed experts and the ACLU.

The ACLU of Illinois is being assisted in this matter by Maja Eaton, Kevin Fee, Jr., and Joseph Dosch of the Chicago office of Sidley Austin LLP.

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