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.