Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center, Part 1

What was initially a long comparison between WBEZ’s reports and my personal experiences has blossomed into something completely different. This is partly due to the fact that my home internet connection has been screwed by my condo association, I’m going on a short vacation to Seattle in about 6 hours and the fact that I am still working on an evaluation for court.

Because my connection is shoddy, I can’t listen to the Real Player archive. Because I’m going on Vacation, I don’t want to bring anything related to my job with me. Because
I’m still working on an evaluation, I am in desperate need of a distraction.

Enough rambling. The first part of this will deal with my personal experiences and the recent changes in the CCTJDC. I will have another part that compares and contrasts my experiences the reports from WBEZ. I am also working on a third post about my most recent client-with a number of details changed to protect his confidentiality. But that one maybe nixed just ’cause I don’t want to even threaten this kid’s privacy. Other entries are sure to follow.

Given that this is the juvenile court, there will be no pictures.

I also wanna point out that there are really good, dedicated staff and teachers that work in the Detention Center.

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I’ve been working at the county for just over five years. During that time, I’ve been to the Detention Center far less than your average PO. However, I work in a specialized unit, and my case load is significantly smaller than the average POs. So, my experiences in the Audie home are tempered by the fact that I can typically avoid that place like the plague…

But recently, given the level of risk my clients have posed to he community, I’ve had to do my evaluations while they’ve been locked up. That means trips to a remodeled Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center.

Let me walk you through the Center. The Detention center is on the west side of Hamilton; after going through the first set of metal detectors, there are two sets of stair cases: one on the right, one on the left. You can go up either to see your clients/child in the center.

The first thing you’ll notice is the second set of metal detectors and the locker bank. If you have anything more than a pad of paper and a pen, you’ll have to store it in one of the lockers. It’ll cost you $.25, but it’s completely refundable.

I posted before about the new metal detectors and the locker banks. It’s damn waste of space and time, but someone thought it was a good idea. Keep in mind, however, that nobody on the floor of the Detention Center is allowed to have any cellphones or electronic devices while they are working.

There are two sets of desks on the second floor, one is behind thick glass, the other is out in the open. There is supposed to be a Sheriff on duty at all times at the desk that is on the floor. They’re there about 80% of the time.

The Lady that is usually behind the glass is probably the sweetest, most helpful person in the Detention Center. This is a fairly major change from a year ago.

Last year, the Detention Center staff wasn’t always responsive in helping probation officers or lawyers visit their lawyers. You cold wait 10 or 20 minutes for the staff to acknowledge your presence. Then you’d have to wait for additional staff to bring you around to either the detention center or the School (Nancy B Jefferson). Depending on the location of you client, you’d get a pass to either the School or to their “rooms.”

Nowadays, after the lady behind the glass sees your ID and you sign the log, you’re in the facility within 5 minutes. Oh, and they’ve color coded passes to match the floors of the detention center. Still, this newer, faster admissions processes is the one positive change i’ve seen in Detention Center in five years.

Before the massive renovations, when the detention center staff was ready to bring you to the school or the cells, they’d push open the swing door, and you’d walk though the administrative offices of Nancy B Jefferson School to you destination.

Now you have to walk through the metal detectors (attorneys and sheriffs are the only exceptions to that rule) into a small room with doors on each end. Sheriffs have to buzz you through to each section. Very much like the adult jail.

When the doors close, you’ll take a left turn into the most foul smelling hallway at the Juvenile Center. This is near to where the kitchen is. If you come in the center around 11 or 1, you’ll see the lunch carts either going to the clients or coming from their rooms. You will notice, however, a few pungent odors: sour milk, bleach and other nasty cafeteria smells.

You’ll continue down the hall way, taking a right turn followed by a left turn. If you’re going to the school, you’ll have to sign in again.

Currently, CPS has a new policy wherein you have to sign in before going into Nancy B Jefferson. On the way out, in addition to dropping off your pass to the nice lady behind the bullet-resistant glass window, you have to sign out of the school. This is also a very recent policy, and rather redundant.

Being an official for the county, however, I’m rather used to redundancy now.

If you are not going to the school–going on “section” as we call it–the worker will use a magnetic pass key to activate the elevator and activate the floor to which you are supposed to go to.

Going on section hasn’t changed much, neither has visiting a client in the school. This is problematic. Going on section has a serious problem in that a PO can wait 20 or 30 minutes to be released from the facility after their visit. When one is done visiting their client or clients, you have to call the front desk of the Detention Center, and another staffer will have to fetch you at Elevator #1. The longest I’ve waited is approximately 45 minutes. This was roughly 3 years ago, and at the time we were still allowed to have our cellphones. So after I wrote up my notes, I played a few dozen games of Snake…

But I digress.

The best part of visiting a client on section has to be the privacy one gets. Each floor has a number of conference rooms and meeting areas. After you sign in, a PO is typically allowed to take a client to a conference room. This almost makes up for the possibility of getting stuck on section.

While Detention Center staff still has to fetch people from the school, because of the elevated traffic, it’s easier for a PO or a Lawyer to get out of the School. However, there are no places to talk to your client privately. At one time, we were allowed to use the library to interview and visit with our clients; however, that changed shortly after I started working at the court. As it stand now, we get to share the in school detention room with other officers and clients who’ve been kicked out of their classrooms.

All in all, despite major renovations, there aren’t many differences between today’s Detention Center and the Detention Center of 5 years ago. While it looks different, the complete inefficiency of the center has not changed. Staff still smuggle cell phones in with them. I saw it just the other day. The walls of the school are ugly brown brick covered by felt posters with vaguely inspirational works. The same school work and poems written by residents when I started at the court serve as additional decoration.

Each section of the Detention Center is clearly labeled in an “Old English” font that, if used in a CPS High School or a suburban school, would be immediately associated with gang activity.

There is a reason most Probation Officers do not like visiting the detention center. We have no privacy with our clients, our time is often waited and it is a throughly depressing site to see. Detention, Jail, Audie home–whatever you want to call it, it isn’t supposed to be fun. At the same time, there is no reason for the Detention Center to be this bad either.

2 Comments so far

  1. CC (unregistered) on October 29th, 2005 @ 9:53 pm

    Well said, Officer Gleason. I would love to comment, but I’ll wait till the investigation is over.

  2. Jennifer (unregistered) on November 18th, 2005 @ 10:54 am


    I’m writing a play about a juvenile delinquent and need to do some research. Can I call/email you? I have some specific questions, i.e. What classes are offered, etc. I also want to get a feel for what a detention facility is like.



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