ACLU suing Illinois over juvenile prison conditions

The American Civil Liberties Union in Chicago is suing the Illinois Department of Corrections and its director Arthur Bishop over conditions in DJJ.

September 12, 2012

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(WBEZ/Carlos Javier Ortiz)

The American Civil Liberties Union in Chicago is suing the state of Illinois over conditions inside youth prisons. In its lawsuit the ACLU says some of the kids locked up aren't getting enough time in the classroom, and for the time they are there, they're not getting high quality instruction.

They say kids also aren't getting much special or vocational education and for kids who already have their GEDs or high school diplomas there's virtually no college work available.  As a result kids are idle for many of their waking hours.

“One of the principal causes of the inadequate conditions at the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is insufficient staffing and resources,” says Adam Schwartz, the ACLU's lead attorney in the case.

Schwartz says one fix is to bring down the population so that those still in prison get better services.

The lawsuit requires monitors to go into the prisons and report to a federal judge on problems and solutions. The federal judge would have the authority to enforce those solutions.

The suit also seeks to eliminate the use of solitary confinement as a way to discipline kids in youth prisons.

“To take a youth who has already experienced trauma before they got to these facilities and to put them in a room by themselves for a period of days, where they have virtually no contact with other people, and where they have virtually nothing to do, they're in a state of enforced idleness, is inherently destructive and counter therapeutic,” Schwartz said.

Rather than spend money fighting the lawsuit,  the Department of Juvenile Justice is agreeing to the federal oversight.