Last Tuesday January 29, 2009 I went to a meeting convened by people who work at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center (CCJDC). The flyer advertising the meeting stated that its purpose was to tell the "untold story" about what has been going on at the center.
As I sat in the front row to hear clearly what was being said, I was most impressed by the number of black people who showed up at Englewood High School. It was a crowd of over 200 people on a bitterly cold night, and the majority of the attendees were men -men wearing the uniform of Cook County deputies, men who appeared to care about the problem and men who were respectful toward one another.
And the reason that the men made such an impression on me is that for those of us who "do" meetings, the fact that most of the attendees were men was a miracle unto itself.
The Juvenile Detention Center is the largest facility of its kind in the entire nation and can house up to 600 people under the age of 17. Some are there because of crimes they have committed, while others may be there because the state has nowhere else to place them while they have temporary custody.
Children have their own rooms with glass doors so they can be monitored at all times. Just one floor in the center is larger than 95 percent of detention centers in the entire country.
There are several issues that the employees have been bringing to the forefront over the past six weeks on Garfield Major's radio show on WRLL-AM. One of their main allegations is that the breakdown in discipline at the center is related directly to the increase in youth violence on the streets.
If word on the street is that going into the center is a piece of cake, then the lack of fear of incarceration can be a factor in whether or not they opt to participate in street violence.
Another major concern is that many workers have been told, after years of satisfactorily doing their jobs, their ability to retain those jobs will be based on a test and/or whether or not they have a college degree.
No consideration is being given to the fact that many of the staff members have over 10 years or more of experience in dealing with the type of youths who are being housed at the center. That type of on-the-job knowledge is better than any theoretical Ph.D. degree by someone whose piece of paper gives them accolades for theories, but who don't have any practical experience.
The employees have also made some serious allegations regarding the way the center is managed. At one time that center was controlled by the Cook County board. But a lawsuit 1999 placed it under court supervision. It is alleged that those who sued along with those who came in to take over are now benefiting monetarily from the change.
Some of the allegations that are being made include sweetheart no-bid contracts for and ghost payrolling for supervisors.
They also say that the center's budget has gone from $22 million just four years ago to over $40 million dollars today. Part of the reason for the huge increase in the budget, they say, includes making the children wear disposable shoes (who has that contract?) and making toiletries a commissary item (who has that contract?). And those glass doors to the rooms? Rarely broken in the past, they are now being broken at rate of 10 a month (who has that contract and why are the children so angry?).
One of the things missing in the presentation was information from young people who have gone through the center. Was the detention center better when it was under the country board than it is now that it is under the court system?
Is the college degree requirement being placed on current employees just another attempt to give well-paying jobs to college kids who can't find work in today's tight economy while sending black men to the unemployment line?
If there are parents who currently have children at the center or young people who were once held there and can shed some more light on what is happening, please call me. My number is 773-622-3863.
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