Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center: Part 1/2

There’s no internet on the flight from Chicago to Seattle, so I can’t listen to the WBEZ archive. I have absolutely no idea, as I write this, if report touched on alterntaives to detention, but I figured I should report on Probation’s efforts to reduce the population of the detention center.

But, before I get started, let me explain the why I’m using male names and pronouns. The majority of the detention center, as well as the majority of the kids on probation are male. My entire caseload, both treatment and field unit, are entirely male (approximately 25 high risk kids). I have interviewed a total of 3 females on the job; 1 was a victim, 1 was charged with an offense that she shouldn’t have been (she was actually the victim) and the final interviewee was a non-compliant girl of about 15. I have to point out, however, that the County does have a number of pilot projects that are specifically for females who are on probation. While I’ve worked with these units on previous occasions, given my responsibilities, I do not have that much interaction with their program.

My language simply reflects my experiences as well as the realities of probation.

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We’ll start at the beginning. Let’s say Johnnie gets picked up for selling weed (if memory serves, quite possibly the most common offense in the court). For arguement’s sake, we’ll say he had about an ounce. When he gets pinched by the police, they have a few options as dictated by the Juvenile Court Act. They can:

1) Refer him to a formal or informal station adjustments
Station Adjustments are limited interventions that allow the police handle this matter internally. An informal station adjustment is typically a warning or a brief counseling session. A formal station adjustment is where the police make a referal to an agency, like Gateway, for drug treatment. In my experience, this happens in the suburbs more frequently than in the city itself

2) The Police can refer the case to the State’s Attorneys office. At this point, the State’s Attorneys Office reviews the and approves of charges. A screening tool is used to determine if the minor is going to be held in custody; however, the recommendations that are generated from the tool can be waived.

Certain charges are worth certain “points.” If the total number of points equals or exceeds 15, then the minor is to be held in custody. For instance, any charge involving the sexual assault of a child is automatically 12 points. Other factors include the age of the minor, the age of the victim and the number of previous encounters with police and the detention center. Frequently, the kids I work with have 15 points on their screening intake.

Now, if Johnny was picked up on the street–so his favorite corner–he’d pick up 7 to 12 points. Where this gets complicated is if Johnny gets picked up in school, in a public housing project or within a 1000 yards of either a school or the projects. If this occurs, Johnny’s charges go from Possession with Intent to Sell to more serious charges. Johnny may be find himself sleeping at the Audie home.

If Johnny has been picked up on previous occasions, the chances of his confinement increase. While it is possible that Johnny will be detained for selling an ounce, it is not that likely.

The state can also not approve charges, or chose not to pursue this matter. In essence, when the charges are approved the State can chose to divert the case to an agency (including probation). A minor who has been diverted cannot serve time in the detention center; they can be held in the detention center pending a decision from the State. I am not entirely sure how long the minor can be held in custody while charges are pending, however, I believe it is 24 hours.

Now let’s say Johnny is found guilty of possession, and the court deems that he should serve a term of 8 months of probation (that determination comes from Probation; a social investigation where the Probation officer interviews the family, the minor and determines what would be the least restrictive response to correct the minor’s delinquent behavior). If all goes well, Johnny will not serve any (more) time in the detention center…

…but sometimes, things don’t go well. Let’s say Johnny has a pretty rough first four months on probation. He gets suspended 3 times for fighting in school, runs away from home on 2 occasions (and is picked up by the police for violating curfew) and picks up a new drug case. Each instance I just described can be a violation of Johnny’s probation. The first instance is a technical violation. All minor’s on probation are required to either attend school full time or work full time. Being suspended from school is not an excuse. Running away from home is a status offense–if Johnny was 18, this wouldn’t matter as much. However, since he’s a juvenile, he must stick to the city curfew and reside at his place of residence while on probation. Finally, while picking up a new case is “technically” a violation of probation, it is not considered a technical violation.

Each violation–technical, status or a new case–can incure detention. However, all probation officers are required to follow alternatives to detention. So, even if Johnny has a really busy week where he gets suspended, runs away from home and picks up a new case, Probation officers are supposed to consider alternatives to detention.

In the case of the status and technical violations, typically a PO provides the minor with a warning and a minor corrective action. In other words, you tell the kid that he cannot fight in school and that he’ll serve his suspension with the PO at 1100 s Hamilton organizing books, papers and other busy work. This is very much akin to the informal station adjustment.

The next step is Administrative Sanction. This is a formal sanction, where in the minor agrees to do certain other actions in order to make up for violating his probation. In return for completing these requirements, the kid doesn’t get his probation violated.

So, let’s say Johnny gets suspended a third time; this would require a violation of probation. Unless the judge is a stickler for school, missing school is not typically good enough to land a kid in the detention center. However, if Johnny misses a week of school, it’s a different story. A judge may place Johnny in detention for a week to make up for the week of school he missed.

If Johnny has a really busy week–suspended, running away from home and a new case–one might be tempted to ask that he spend time in the detention center. For most POs, that would depend on the charges he picked up. If it is a felony, or a violent offense, cooling off in the Detention center isn’t a bad idea. However, we have a number of alternatives to detention. A PO can request:

1) A secure shelter: As long as Johnny hasn’t committed a sex offense, murder, picked up a gun case or arson, he could wait his hearing in a secure shelter. It is not a locked facility, but he would receive close supervision. Think of it as a half way house. Given my case load, I’ve never had a chance to use a secure shelter for any of my clients.

2) Home Confinement/Eletronic Monitoring: This is house arrest with, or without, an electronic bracelet that notifies the department if it is removed or if Johnny leaves his house. While on home confinement, Johnny can expect to be visited by probation officers after hours (typically between 2pm and 10pm) and phone calls from probation using voice recognition. Johnny is not allowed to have guests over either. These options are available to all clients as long as their homes have a working phone line and it is acceptable to send them home. If Johnny has a history of sexually acting out, and there are potential victims in the home, he will not be allowed to be on Home Confinement.

3) Evening Reporting Center: this is a program, assigned when a minor is on home confinement, where a bus picks Johnny up after school, and gets him involved with other activities until (approximately) 7pm. He’ll be supervised by staff at the facility as well as probation officers.

Each one of these detention alternatives can be used at any point of the adjudication process(the technical term used for describing the legal process involving kids). With these alternatives, and requiring the use of administrative sanctions, probation has managed to bring down the number of kids detained each year.

It is a sad commentary on our society that we still need juvenile detention centers, detention alternatives and even juvenile probation officers. As long as we need any of these programs, they need to be as humane and treatment oriented as possible.

6 Comments so far

  1. James T. Struck (unregistered) on October 9th, 2005 @ 5:16 pm

    One thing I want to note about your posting is that you only discuss the impact on the accused juvenile.

    A student at a former employer accused me of following her home on the way to my parent’s nursing home in June 2004. My mother is extremely scared of the community again contributed to by experiences like this. I was just walking to my mother’s nursing home and asked the student her name and if she had a job because career services at the school asked where people worked. The employer prohibited talking to any student, faculty or staff outside of my job and prohibited talking about my case about improving the warnings on alcohol.

    And the effect of experiences like Johnny’s are lifelong. I actually am almost horrified of walking down a street now because of the student’s allegation. I try to avoid walking near some people.

    The employer offered to remove the complaint, I expressed concerns that it could stay with my response…then later the employer used it repeatedly to discipline me or not let me transfer jobs. I try to avoid the community where this happened. My parent is scared by the experience. She is more agitated.

    A psychiatrist after this experience told me to go up on medication. The same hospital had previously forced hospitalization and medication, because I was complaining about a year of lost financial aid.

    Now, I can no longer get individual medical insurance through certain insurers. I repeatedly explained that the forced hospitalization was discrimination, but they refused health insurance.

    The same sort of thing might happen to hundreds of people in Guatemala and El Salvador after the floods, Pakistan after the earthquakes, and Louisiana and Texas after Katrina and Rita. They are stressed and fatigued, and when they complain about discrimination some will get seen as too agitated or upset. They might forever be denied health insurance or be forced to take medication.

    Thank you for your posting about juvenile detention. Some of the problem is that people are falsely accused of crimes and that the effects are life long. The effects clearly impact the family.

    When someone accuses someone of something it effects one throughout life. No health insurance in some cases. More difficult finding work. Forced medication. I told someone far too many times that I loved them because I was trying to follow the golden rule and the religious tradition I grew up learning and was surrounded by, and that contributed to forced medication.

    Our society tends towards persecution at times. This persecution can be a little bit scary.

    I am sure there are people in juvenile detention who were just trying to follow the golden rule like me. I am sure there are people in juvenile detention who were falsely accused of things. Now, after these sort of experiences I try to be helpful primarily with my writings, politicians, corporations, government agencies, and organizations. People often do not understand enough the idea of being a good samaritan or trying to help someone else. Efforts at being a good samaritan are met with forced medication, prohibition from speech, job termination, and denial of insurance throughout life.

    I sign this because I am happy to talk about this sort of experience and discuss it

    James T. Struck

  2. James T. Struck (unregistered) on October 10th, 2005 @ 10:56 pm

    I want to say that my language in the sentence about good samaritan activity resulting in forced medication and job loss is far too strong.

    Language matters and my language was extremely poor. Good samaritan action saves hundreds or thousands of lives each year. Not everyone experiences job loss.

    I just went through an American Red Cross course today and learned things that may help someone some day. Some of the language though was weird.

    True or False When you are doing CPR do not put your hands near your eyes, nose, or mouth.

    It is true that you should not put your hand near your face. If there were something in your face, you should remove what is in your eye, mouth, or nose? Yes….no.

    Language matters tremendously….

    My medication was coerced and not forced. For some of the time, I thought it was helping me sleep.

    It was “If you take this medication, you can leave the hospital…”

    This happens to many people. You would not believe how many people who were taken advantage of, used, exploited, were late for work or school because a parent or child was sick are possibly coerced into taking medication.

    And I am lucky to have got psychological support (even though the medication was not needed) from the hospital. Part of my problem is poor word choice and poor use of language.

    James T. Struck

  3. Marty (unregistered) on October 11th, 2005 @ 10:05 am


    I’m not entirely sure what you are getting at in regards to the coercision/forcing of medication on you. I’m extremely sorry to hear that–the threat of medication is at least unethical, if not illegal.

    Anyway, detention of Juveniles does not typically involve medication unless the minor was on meds prior to being detained. The psychitrists on staff are to renew prescriptions. Every minor in detention has the right to refuse medication. At times judges have attempted to change a kid’s probation order to include medication, however, that runs into a tangle of constitutional issues that most judges do not want to deal with.

    As for the kids in detention who “followed the golden rule,” I can’t say of certain what each and every kid did to get detained. To be fair, no body can. And while they may be following the rules of the street or their set, I’d say about 50% of the kids locked up need to be locked up. Every kid I have ever had detained wasn’t trying to do good and got pinched; my kids get locked up when their close to sexually acting out or have violated a major condition of their probation.

    However, I am working on a post on Disproportionate Minority Confinement. As a teaser, we can look at it this way. 90% of the kids in detention are African-American, however, only 25% of cook county residents are African American. Those number don’t seem right, do they?

  4. James T. Struck (unregistered) on October 14th, 2005 @ 11:41 pm

    Thank you for your comments about more detention among African Americans.

    I was clarifying about medication being coerced and not forced to say it was not entirely voluntary. I also wanted to use better language. Poor language choice is the source of much conflict.

    Yes, I agree that not everyone is following the golden rule. I often probably just fooled myself into thinking I was following that rule, but actually was trying to help myself.

    I wwanted to say that there is just some strange disrimination sometimes.

    Spring 1999 publish article in journal. The ERIC database later includes almost every article except mine. 2003 publish two articles; ERIC drops that ejournal from its collection right when my two articles are to appear in the database.

    Some of these juveniles in detention just got picked on. People might say they are agitated, but the agitation may have been created by discrimination. We do not need to medicate people who have been discriminated against. Rescue victims but do not coerce or mandate medication.

    James T. Struck

  5. Jennifer (unregistered) on November 18th, 2005 @ 11:11 am

    Hi Officer Gleason,

    Can I talk with you more about your experience as a PO? I am doing research for a play I am writing.

    Thank you.


  6. linda (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 10:35 am

    I am a school counselor in Chicago looking for resources for a family with an 11 year old boy who is “losing it”

    Besides going through the court does anyone know of any programs in Chicago ie bootcamp THAT WORKS. This kid needs a residential home and the family has no means to pay.

    Please don’t recommed Hargrove. He was there. It lasted one week. A two week program changes no-one.

    Any suggestions?

    I have called and be to every resource in Chicago.



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