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Juvenile Justice Initiative pushes back against labeling Judge Toomin a “martyr”

Tuesday, Sep 15, 2020

* Background is here if you need it. From Elizabeth Clarke, the president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative…

Dear Rich - since I so often benefit from and am grateful for your coverage of IL politics, it seems unfair to reach out to you for the first time with a complaint. But thought your headline that the retention vote was making a “martyr” of the chief judge in juvenile court was a little over the top. Then I read the comments and was really dismayed. For whatever good it may do, here is some background to clarify the concerns in the advocacy community about Judge Toomin’s leadership.

You may not realize this, but the juvenile court in Cook County is an historic legal innovation. It is the oldest juvenile court in the world dating back to 1899 and has been widely copied. Now family courts exist in nearly every nation. As a world leader, it is critical for the court to exhibit leadership, policies and practices that are consistent with the highest global standards. Our children deserve no less.

But for decades the Cook County Juvenile Court has detained children who are nearly exclusively black and brown. Addressing and ending these deeply troubling racial disparities should be at the center of every juvenile court policy and practice. Instead, Judge Toomin has endorsed policies and practices that fail to limit detention and incarceration.

Most troubling was his opinion overturning a Cook County ordinance aimed at ending detention of young children, age 10/11/12 years. These were children who were detained based on their difficulty complying with an electronic monitoring device strapped on their ankle - in one case, for several weeks during the hot month of August. Imagine trying to parent a 12 year old who has to live with a EM device 24/7.

National experts pointed out this was contrary to national trends to end detention of young children based on the lifelong harm from incarceration. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/illinois/articles/2019-11-10/illinois-court-permits-detaining-preteenagers. Lifelong harm. Detention is short but extremely traumatic and increases the propensity to offend. Community based alternatives are always more effective in the long run.

The article also pointed out that the U.S. is an outlier in its use of detention, especially detention of young children: Despite the recent nationwide shift, the United States remains an international outliner in its treatment of juveniles, according to advocates. The U.S. is one of only two United Nations members who did not ratify the human rights convention on children’s rights. Douglas Keillor, executive director of Juvenile Justice Advocates International, said that after the U.N. creation and agreement on children’s human rights, globally two standards have been widely accepted: Children under the age of 12 [Note – the U.N. has since clarified that children under age 14 should not be prosecuted] should not be treated criminally, and youth should be treated in juvenile systems until the age of 17.

In addition, despite eligibility Cook County lacked the juvenile court judicial leadership to access state funds for alternatives to juvenile prison through Juvenile Redeploy Illinois. Redeploy Illinois is a program utilized by over forty other jurisdictions in Illinois to support services rather than incarceration for juveniles in trouble with the law, potentially making $1,000,000 available annually to Cook County. The most recent opportunity to access funds for new sites was last fall, and the Juvenile Court in Cook County failed to apply.

Finally, last Spring Judge Toomin had to be countermanded for blocking motions by juveniles for release from detention during the pandemic. Instead, he should have been doing everything possible to facilitate release, including mass commutations of lengthy probation sentences and electronic monitoring orders.

Together these actions demonstrate a shocking lack of the progressive and rehabilitative leadership essential for the world’s first juvenile court. Justice must be tempered with mercy and compassion, especially when children’s lives and futures are involved.

I would be happy to answer any questions, but just want to close by saying that unless you have seen the eyes of a young child as they are locked alone in a cell, you can’t appreciate the horror or trauma of incarceration. The police chief in Evanston recently spoke about the trauma of a police encounter for a child, and how the justice system must change to de-escalate conflict and end the policies, including incarceration, that cause trauma to predominately black and brown children.

Happy to answer any questions & thank you for your good work.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

25 Comments
  1. - 17% Solution - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 1:49 pm:

    Well said.


  2. - Powdered Whig - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 1:55 pm:

    Sorry Elizabeth, but while your job is to be an advocate for troubled youth, the judge’s job is to interpret the law and apply the law to specific facts. There are a ton of Judges in Cook County that seem incapable of doing just that, but yet they get a pass from the Cook County Democratic Party. The question I pose to you is this: Do you have examples of times where Judge Toomin did not properly follow the law? If not, your remedy should not be to remove Toomin from the bench, but instead to get legislative change in Springfield.


  3. - Dotnonymous - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 1:56 pm:

    Isolation has been recently proved to cause brain damage in children.


  4. - Been There - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 1:57 pm:

    I think her gripe should be maybe be with getting a new judge to run the juvenile courts and they can transfer him back to being a regular judge. Tim Evans, or whatever judges make that decision, must have been ok with Toomin. .


  5. - Powdered Whig - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 1:59 pm:

    And in the story below, these two children that were detained were subject to gun charges. Most 12 year old children do not get caught up in gun charges. Maybe that is why the detention was proper in that case. The fact that they are 12 does not mean anything to me. When you commit crimes like adults, you should be treated like an adult.


  6. - 1st Ward - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:04 pm:

    So the judge should ignore state law. The 2 children were subject to armed robbery and on multiple occasions ran away from home including after damaging the electronic monitor. Not an easy call for the judge given their ages but it seems like something needed to be done. The e-mail to Rich doesn’t reference any alternatives outside of release. Will now ensure I vote Toomin after reading these articles.

    https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-met-juvenile-court-detention-20181017-story.html


  7. - yeah - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:07 pm:

    Ms Clarke:

    Question for you: what was your position on the retention of Judge Jackie Portman-Brown, who is on tape literally dragging a child into a holding cell in violation of the law?


  8. - Helm - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:09 pm:

    Toomin has been a sitting judge for over 30 years. Presumably endorsed by the Bar Associations and the Cook County Dem Party in all years past ?

    What has changed ? He called for an outside investigation of TP’s hand-picked, massively under-qualified State’s Attorney & now she retaliates.


  9. - Powdered Whig - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:09 pm:

    === Isolation has been recently proved to cause brain damage in children. ===

    Then change the law in Springfield. Don’t take it out on a judge that was simply trying to follow the law and do his job.


  10. - Perrid - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:11 pm:

    I don’t know enough about the law or what the judge has done to comment about any of the JJ stuff, but I’d put a lot of money down that says the party not endorsing him has nothing to do with helping kids.


  11. - regular democrat - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:13 pm:

    There is never anyone advocating for the victims of these violent crimes these juveniles commit. Maybe just maybe a judge in Cook County was thinking about them for a change


  12. - Just Me 2 - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:18 pm:

    What was her solution to keep the kids with guns off the street if ankle monitoring wasn’t working?


  13. - Roman - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:28 pm:

    If I’m not mistaken (and Ms. Clarke, please correct me if I am) the daily population of the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center is about half of what it was when Toomin took over J Court — from about 500 detainees to around 250. So, if he is trying to get the court system to lock up more kids he’s really bad at it.

    I admire the work of the Juv Justice reform folks have done. Way too many kids were being locked up in Cook County — in fact the daily population of the detention center was well over 1000 detainees throughout the 1990’s. But the reformers essentially don’t want any youth detained for any reason. They’re entitled to that point of view, but they need to change the law in Springfield. Until then, Judge Toomin has to abide by what’s on the books.


  14. - The Way I See It - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 2:55 pm:

    there are reasons to not want to have a judge retained. In the abstract, this makes sense. In context, not retaining Toomin is pure retaliation.


  15. - DuPage Saint - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 3:03 pm:

    I know that DCFS will not or at least did not take kids charged with crimes. So what is judge supposed to do with 12 year olds with weapons that cut of monitors? She says it was hot weather so would be hard to parent. I don’t believe there was any parenting. And my experience was judge would look to some adult so I bet there was no good adult supervision available. So just let them roam streets?


  16. - Earnest - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 3:11 pm:

    Great response, and I appreciated learning the history. The failure to apply for the Redeploy Illinois funds is the thing I’d want to follow up on.


  17. - Louis G Atsaves - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 3:16 pm:

    So a county ordinance supercedes State law? What am I missing here? Go to Springfield and advocate for changing the law. Right now I still see a well-respected Judge doing his job and facing retaliation for doing it.


  18. - Miso - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 3:45 pm:

    Ms. Clarke fails to mention that her number one complaint against the judge; his ruling of state supremacy of county ordinance was affirmed by a unanimous appellate panel.

    Should we retain that trio of enablers too?


  19. - Enviro - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 3:55 pm:

    This problem might be better served by mandatory family counseling for the children and their parents. So many of these children are raised by single mothers and have fathers who are seldom present.


  20. - low level - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 4:05 pm:

    I really dont see how any of it “made him a martyr”. Exactly one judge hasnt been retained in what is it- 25, 30 years? Am happy to read and review what Elizabeth has written and factor it into my decision. Just dont know how many voters will do the same.


  21. - Chicagonk - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 4:47 pm:

    Obviously the Cook County Dems can choose who they want to support or not support. But it’s pretty clear to me this is payback from Preckwinkle. Judge is a political position in Cook County, so Toomin should be able to handle this wrist-slap.


  22. - tom gooch - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 6:10 pm:

    12 year olds accused of violent crimes involving guns should remain in custody, be tried as adults and sent prison. That Judge is a good man this is nothing more then a Kim Fox/Oprah operation


  23. - Amalia - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 6:11 pm:

    12 year olds with guns and ankle monitors and guns again cries out for detention. totally tired of the “but they are just kids” folks because some of these people are violent and must be detained. detention and proper care in detention is probably their last stop before action that lands them in adult court and prison. stop it with the they are all just innocent. maybe you think their victims are just fiction. they are not. gangs use younger people. stop it.


  24. - Frumpy White Guy - Tuesday, Sep 15, 20 @ 8:43 pm:

    Helpful. Thank you.


  25. - truthtopower - Wednesday, Sep 16, 20 @ 2:11 am:

    Has Ms. Clarke ever asked Chief Judge Tim Evans to transfer Judge Toomin out of juvenile court, or even to remove
    him as chief of the juvenile court? Probably not. This tells you her email to Rich is nothing more than a political hit job by Ms. Clarke.


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