A Day Inside a Juvenile Detention Center

October 28, 2009 10:24:46 AM PDT
It may look like any other Chicago public school, but the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center is where children as young as 10 years old wait for trial, sentencing or transfer to prison. Offenses can range from truancy to murder. Their personal space is a 7 by 14-and-a-half foot cell.

"Some days when you really go down, these walls, you feel like these walls are closing up on you," said Roberto, an 18-year-old in the detention center.

Despite living in confinement, one young woman says it's safer than life on the outside.

"You don't have to worry about just anybody coming in, you don't have to worry about who's going to walk into your room, well, who you're gonna get molested or raped by," said 20-year-old Angel.

The resident population here is disproportionately children of color. Ninety-seven percent of the residents are minorities and 83 percent are African American.

Derrian McKinney manages one of the boys' units. He sees a common denominator.

"Poverty is such a huge, huge issue. Because we have a dilemma. If it's drugs or if it's robbery and we're saying stop, stop, stop, what do we replace that with?" McKinney said.

Keeping the children safe is the staff's first priority. They also try to teach rational thinking and coping techniques that can be used on the outside.

A curriculum was recently added that includes rewards for good behavior and consequences for poor choices. Some of the youth say they hope what they're learning will keep them from returning.

"I'm understanding what they're saying, like I should think before I do stuff cause if I go out there and try to fight, then I'm gonna end up back in here. Then, I might end up going to DOC and it's just gonna be a cycle," said 15-year-old Keisha.

For about a third of the youth, it's their first time in confinement, but there are also children living there who have returned as many as 15 times.


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