About Damn Time

In what can only be described as his best idea ever, Stroger has agreed to give administration of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center over to the Juvenile Court. My office was talking about the measure all day, and most of my colleagues thought it was a positive move. The Detention Center needs to be more than a warehouse for kids or a patronage bank. However, this does have some interesting implications for the court, and as usual it boils down to who is going to pay for it.

Approximately one month ago, we had a meeting about the impending budget crunch and what it means for probation. We were told to expect more problems if the administration of the detention center was transfered to the the Court. Probation staff may have an increased role in the Detention Center’s day-to-day happenings. It is also possible that some of the Detention Center staff will become Probation Officers, which could mean an increase in their salary. Both of these scenarios require that budgets be increased, not cut. This is money that needs to be spent.

Kids that are held in detention fall behind in school, have a more difficult time adjusting to returning to the community and are more likely to recidivate. In other words, when we lock up kids, we lose them to the street. Therefore, it is in the County’s best interest to improve the Detention center so that a child’s time in detention is more therapeutic than punitive and more restorative than restrictive. While it may “cost” more in terms of budgets, this reform is the right thing to do. Done correctly, this reform can save money in other areas.

Having the Juvenile court administer the detention is the first step in positive reform but it is only a first step. Other steps are going to cost money. It’s a sad but it seems as if the commissioners only understand short-term budgetary ramifications. Reform isn’t short term and it isn’t going to pay for itself. However, by allowing probation to fufill its mission of helping to empower and reform at risk youth, the money spent on reform will pay off as more children get off the streets.

Sorry this is a few days late. I’m not in Chicago at the moment.

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