Complaints mounting at juvenile facility

February 19, 2008 9:27:49 PM PST
Some workers at the Cook County juvenile center are worried about their safety and the safety of the children there.Ten people were hurt during a big brawl at the center Monday. There's even talk of a possible worker walkout.

There is no question many staffers at the juvenile detention center are unhappy. Many say they are worried for their safety at work. And the brawl inside the facility Monday was just one of many recent incidents. The new administrator says he's committed to fixing the problems and that begins with the staff.

It was the sort of incident some juvenile detention center staffers say was bound to happen and is likely to happen again - a near riot inside the facility with dozens of teenagers involved, throwing furniture and causing numerous injuries.

Staff members are worried about their jobs. So they speak anonymously. But they are also worried about their safety.

"We've never had so many staff injured at one time," said Cook Co. juvenile detention worker.

"You go in there every day, don't know what to expect," said another Cook Co. juvenile detention worker.

Past problems at the center are well documented and had gotten so bad that the federal courts brought in Earl Dunlap to clean it up.

Dunlap is a highly regarded administrator who has cleaned up other juvenile facilities around the country.

And in Chicago, that means changes in some of the staff that were hired because of political patronage rather than qualifications.

"We have some of the most difficult kids in this community in this facility. Anybody who comes to work here, whose primary objective is to feel safe needs to apply for a job at Disney World," said Earl Dunlap, Juvenile Detention Transitional Administrator.

Many staffers, however, say things now are worse than ever.

Cook County commissioners say they're also hearing the complaints from staff. But they're withholding judgment at this point.

"This riot is just further evidence of how bad it's become. We need to get the new court-appointed administrator to turn this around," said Forest Claypool, (D) Cook County Commissioner.

"I've received calls from workers who are afraid for their safety," said Tony Peraica, (R) Cook County Commissioner.

Employees say they are understaffed and overworked.

"It's dangerous, especially for the staff because power has been taken away from the staff," said Cook Co. juvenile detention worker.

ABC7 got calls from more than two dozen staffers at the facility. All of them have similar complaints. nd several say they are considering a walkout.

Dunlap says he understands morale is low, but it's part of the process of changing a culture that developed over decades.