Juvenile Detention in Cook County: Future Directions

Cook County has a long and proud tradition of progressive practice in juvenile justice–not only with the advent of the first juvenile court but as a national leader through the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. The last two decades, however, have brought intense scrutiny in the area of juvenile detention culminating in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging a range of violations including overcrowding, unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and regular exposure to violence and abuse. With the intervention of the federal courts, substantial progress has been made to date and additional improvements are planned or underway. Nonetheless, substantial concern continues that such reforms cannot fully resolve the challenges presented by the existing facility. In the belief that it is time for Cook County to once again set a new standard–this time for youth detention–the Jane Addams Juvenile Court Foundation (JAJCF), on behalf of the Chief Judge of Cook County, has commissioned the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) to conduct this study of youth detention in Cook County. This study looks beyond the challenges of the current facility to examine more fundamentally the detention needs of the county and its youth. The ultimate goal of the study is to guide discussion regarding a new vision for detention in Cook County–a vision that holds to the ideals that informed the creation of the court in 1899 while recognizing the current circumstances in which the court operates.