Public Defender Speaks Out on Injustice at Juvenile Detention Center

Dozens of children have been unjustly held in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center even though judges ordered them released. That is because the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services says it has nowhere to send them. Andrea Lubelfeld, Chief of our Juvenile Division, spoke out about the problem in a story for WBEZ.

Below is an excerpt from the story.

Illinois is routinely housing wards of the state in Chicago’s jail for kids

The state’s child welfare agency says it has nowhere else to put the children. Opponents call it cruel, and a civil rights violation.

When Andrea Lubelfeld took over a new job with the Cook County Public Defender last August, she became the keeper of “the list” for the office.

Every morning, as the chief of the public defender’s juvenile division, Lubelfeld gets an email with a list of children’s names. Sometimes there’s only one or two names on the list, other days it can be in the double digits. But, Lubelfeld said, in her 10 months in office “it’s never been zero.”

The names are of children stuck in jail for no legal reason — locked up in the county’s juvenile detention center only because the state’s child welfare agency doesn’t have anywhere else to house them.

Getting that list every day makes Lubelfeld’s blood boil, outraged at the injustice the list represents, and heartbroken for the young people who populate it.

“The judge has not ordered them held. The judge has ordered them released,” Lubelfeld said. “So every day that they sit in the detention center not being released it’s just not right. These are children. They’ve been taken away from their families and suffered trauma. They’ve been placed with a new guardian, the state, and the state is not … picking them up from the detention center.”

According to data from the Cook County chief judge’s office, last year 84 young people in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services were left in the juvenile detention center after a judge had ordered their release. Each of them wrongfully imprisoned, sometimes for months.

One boy, originally detained on a robbery case, wrongfully spent his 17th birthday incarcerated. He is still being held more than eight months after a judge ordered him released.

“Every day they sit in the detention center…they are being harmed, and experiencing more trauma,” Lubelfeld said.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, declined WBEZ’s request to interview Director Marc Smith. In a written response to questions, spokesman Bill McCaffrey said a “variety of factors can influence” how long a ward of the state is left sitting in jail, including what type of placement has been required by the judge overseeing the youth’s case or the difficulty finding a foster home or residential facility “willing to accept the youth.”

To address the problem of kids stuck in jail, McCaffrey said “DCFS is adding beds, developing new programs for youth in care and providing funding to our private partners to both expand their facilities and increase their salaries to attract and retain workers.”

Read the full story here, or in the link below.