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Judge Calls Cook County Treatment Of Juvenile Detainees 'Mind Boggling'

A federal judge is giving Cook County a week to fix what he calls a “glaring inconsistency” in how it treats juvenile arrestees. 

A federal lawsuit claims the county is violating the constitution by keeping juveniles locked up for more than 48 hours without seeing a judge.

The wait happens because, unlike adult court, the county’s juvenile judges don’t hold probable cause hearings on weekends or holidays. 

The lawsuit is being brought by the parents of four teenagers who spent more than two days in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center waiting for a hearing. In one instance, a 17-year-old allegedly spent about 55 hours locked up before he was released without any criminal charges and without ever appearing before a judge.

“He actually sat in custody for close to three days and there wasn’t any reason to detain him,” said Adele Nicholas, one of the attorneys representing the parents.

The lawsuit names Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans, juvenile jail Superintendent Leonard Dixon and the county as a whole. The two sides appeared in court for the first time Tuesday, and federal Judge Thomas Durkin was blunt about his feelings.

Durkin started the hearing, held in the Dirksen federal courthouse in downtown Chicago, by noting Cook County holds bond hearings for adults seven days a week. 

He called it a “glaring inconsistency,” “counter-intuitive” and “a flaw in the system” that there aren’t hearings for kids on weekends and holidays.

“It is mind boggling to me that adults, who are less fragile, get before a judge more quickly than juveniles,” Durkin said from the bench.

The attorneys for the county told the judge they needed time to talk with Evans and see if they could work something out. Durkin gave them a week.

“I think you know my feelings about this,” he told them.

When the attorneys raised logistical concerns about holding juvenile hearings over the weekend, Durkin brushed their concerns aside.

“If you can do it for adults you can do it for kids,” he told them. He added that Evans is a fine judge, and he expected he would want to find a quick solution.

“It’s going to be a catastrophe” if a kid waiting for a hearing is assaulted while in the juvenile jail over the weekend, the judge said.

After the hearing, Mark Weinberg, the other attorney representing the parents, said he was surprised the judge came out so strongly in support of their lawsuit.

“I thought it was a rare that a judge speaks so frankly about his feelings about an issue, and he was emphatic that this practice of holding … juvenile detainees over weekends is wrong,” Weinberg said. “We’re excited about everything that happened in court today.” 

The attorneys representing Evans, Dixon and the county declined to comment. A spokesman for Evans says he is not legally allowed to comment on the lawsuit.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.

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