December 7, 2012 10:54 am

Federal court approves agreement to improve conditions in Illinois’ juvenile justice facilities

On Thursday, December 6, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennelly approved an agreement in a case brought by the ACLU of Illinois designed to dramatically improve conditions and services for young people confined at state-run juvenile justice facilities across Illinois.  The settlement was reached between the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice and youth represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois back in September. Under the agreement, a specific remedial plan to fix inadequate conditions and services for youth will be developed, based on the investigation to be conducted by three independent court-appointed experts. Currently, the Department has custody of nearly 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.

“We are ready to begin the process of improving services and care for youth 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 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, investigations by numerous outside experts found inadequacies in mental health care, education, and room confinement.  The ACLU’s complaint, filed in September, 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.

The now-approved consent decree 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 juvenile justice facilities and file a report with the court 180 days.  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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Read the consent decree and the complaint.