The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Helping vulnerable kids & families succeed
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Cook County detention population at lowest level in 30 years

Average daily population at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Cook County, (Chicago), Illinois reached its lowest level in at least three decades, an achievement county juvenile justice officials attribute to a number of detention reform strategies.

The center’s average daily population was 325 in 2010 and has been at less than 275 throughout the first quarter of 2011.

Reform efforts at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center include a specialized unit responsible for expediting the release of youth awaiting placement, especially those who have lingered for extended periods of time.

“The aggressiveness of this unit has had a significant impact on the population,” said Earl Dunlap, transitional administrator at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. “We have also sped up the time it takes to release youth when the state’s attorney makes a determination against filing charges.”

The Office of Mental Health Service in the detention center has been successful in working to ensure that youth in need of immediate psychiatric care are identified quickly and transferred to more appropriate settings.

“In addition, as part of our overall reform effort we are working to collaborate more closely with the court and be more transparent among all of our stakeholders,” Dunlap said.

Cook County’s Juvenile Probation and Court Services Department credits the decrease to judicial leadership, state’s attorney’s input, its own internal reforms and a number of initiatives undertaken with service providers and law enforcement.

In 2010, the department contracted with a local agency for the temporary placement of girls in foster homes. This option serves girls who do not need permanent placement but are unable to remain safely or lawfully in their homes for a period of time.

The probation department also worked with shelter providers to reduce the number of youth denied access to shelter care due to misconduct during a previous stay.

Cook County also changed and expanded its program capacity of its electronic monitoring equipment from radio-frequency cellular devices to one-piece global positioning devices. By eliminating the requirement for a home phone, more youth are eligible and judges have a higher level of confidence in the program. As a result, youth are released on the day that the court orders electronic monitoring and avoid an overnight stay in detention.

Other initiatives sought the assistance of the Chicago Police Department and the courts in eliminating detention in cases when parents or guardians were unable or unwilling to pick up their children. The police department agreed to take steps to find alternative arrangements. The court began approving, on a case-by-case basis, the step-down of juveniles to shelter care, allowing the shelter care to make contact with parents or guardians.

The department also modified its practice of notifying the prosecution of technical violations of probation that were solely based on a juvenile’s noncompliance with school attendance requirements. 

A comprehensive quality-assurance review of all caseloads was also implemented.  Cook County believes that improvements in probation services increases youth competency and reduces the number of bed days for non-compliance with court orders.  

The Juvenile Probation Department expanded its Clinical Services Unit to provide more targeted and intensive services to youth with mental health issues.

Finally, Cook County has identified several additional promising strategies for continuing to reduce detention in 2011, including case processing reforms and alternatives to issuing warrants and alternatives for technical violations of court conditions. 

Cook County’s recent experiences underscore two key lessons for JDAI sites. First, regardless of how long a site has been working at detention reform, opportunities for system improvements and innovations are always available. Cook County deserves considerable credit for these sustained efforts to ensure that no youth are inappropriately or unnecessarily detained. Second, the recent reductions in ADP, and the strengthening of system operations overall, represent the collective efforts of multiple agencies and individuals. Cook County’s example shows that collaborative, multi-stakeholder actions produce greater improvements than are typically accomplished by single agencies or individuals.

Also see JDAI’s interview with Cook County Juvenile Judge Carol Kelly.

For more information contact Carmen Casas at