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State, ACLU reach agreement on plan to improve care of juvenile offenders

SPRINGFIELD — The state agency that houses youths who have committed crimes will enter into an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union to evaluate and improve living conditions for about 1,000 juvenile offenders during the next six months.

The ACLU of Illinois Wednesday will file a federal lawsuit against the director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Arthur Bishop, and a settlement with the agency that will authorize three court-appointed experts to assess current conditions in the state’s eight youth homes during the next six months. The experts will also recommend improvements that will be enforced by the federal court.

The ACLU has targeted poor educational and mental health services, excessive use of solitary confinement, and unsafe living conditions in which staff doesn’t adequately protect residents from violence and uses “excessive force” to quell any disturbances.

“We are optimistic the proposed consent decree we’ve agreed to with Director Bishop will solve the problems, and we’re looking forward to working with the department to solve these problems,” Adam Schwartz, senior staff lawyer for the ACLU of Illinois, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a statement, Bishop said his agency chose not to fight the ACLU litigation because state resources could “be better spent on a mutually agreeable plan to move forward rather than litigating in court.”

“Today’s announcement is another brick in the foundation we are laying for a new juvenile justice system in Illinois — one that treats youth rather than warehousing them, and that provides the services youth need to successfully reintegrate back into their home communities,” Bishop said.

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