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Advancing the Human & Civil Rights of People with Disabilities in Illinois


Equip for Equality Calls for Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center Closure after Report Uncovers Wide-Spread Inhumane Treatment and Civil Rights Violations

March 17, 2023

Rachel Shapiro
, 312-895-7308,
Zena Naiditch, 312-895-7314,

 Facility monitoring found vulnerable youth with disabilities are subjected to unjust, excessive use of physical restraints and seclusion with a wanton disregard for state mandates

 CHICAGO – This morning, Equip for Equality released a report – Youth in Crisis: Stop Civil Rights Violations against Vulnerable Students with Disabilities at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center and Its Alternative School – calling for the closure of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) and its Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative High School (NBJ) and a move to housing these youth in smaller, community-based settings.

The call for closure is based on these key findings: 1.The civil rights of students with disabilities and other youth are routinely being violated; 2. The special education system is “grossly inadequate” (30-50% of youth attending at JTDC enter as special education students); 3.There is an unjust and excessive use of physical restraints and seclusion, often as punishment, with a wanton disregard of state law, including prone restraint which is the most dangerous form of this practice, according to youth; and 4. If our goal is to rehabilitate and support youth with disabilities and others in turning their lives around, spending time in the JTDC is antithetical to that goal.

“I feel like they treat us like dogs – they just throw food under the door and make us work out,” said one youth in the report when talking about being punished for behaviors related to his mental illness.

Close to a year after the Blue Ribbon Committee convened by the Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court released a scathing report, Equip for Equality found little had changed at the JTDC. While Equip for Equality’s report focused on the provision of special education at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative High School (NBJ), monitors found many of the problems that were previously documented continue to exist throughout the facility.

Many youth living in the JTDC and attending its Chicago Public Schools run school, NBJ, have already experienced trauma and violence in their lives. Instead of counteracting this with a rehabilitative approach, the JTDC continues to rely on fear and punishment for control—often this leaves youth more traumatized and further behind in school when they leave the facility.

Recognizing decision makers may elect not to close the JTDC, the 96-page report contains findings and detailed recommendations on all the improvements that need to be implemented at the JTDC and the alternative school. From November 22, 2021, through January of 2023, Equip for Equality spent 1,000 hours at the JTDC interviewing students, staff, and administrators, reviewing the accessibility of facilities such as cells and bathrooms, observing youth in school, and reviewing thousands of pages of documents.

One student said in the report that because he had been housed at the JTDC for several years, his classes, “do the same thing over again – like a cycle.”

“They like to do extra stuff, they be hurting kids. When you get in your room, ain’t no cameras. They bend your legs, put their elbow on your neck. They say ‘ain’t no cameras in your room’,” one youth said when asked about discipline at the JTDC.

“Y’all ain’t going to do this to your kids. Why do it to us because we’re incarcerated. You don’t want nobody to do that to y’all child,” said another youth in the report.

“By not following the law and or their own policies and relying heavily on the use of physical restraints, the JTDC is causing these vulnerable youth even more trauma and despair,” said Olga Pribyl, Vice President of Equip for Equality’s Special Education Rights Clinic, which led the organization’s monitoring efforts. “I’m hopeful that our leaders take the necessary steps to transition to a positive community-based model,” said Pribyl.

The report also highlights serious problems at the other 15 local juvenile detention centers and calls on government officials to conduct in-depth monitoring at these settings.

“Illinois needs to disrupt the school to prison pipeline and redesigning and reforming the system of juvenile temporary detention centers is critical to reaching this goal,” said Zena Naiditch, President & CEO of Equip for Equality, a non-profit organization designated as the federally mandated state Protection & Advocacy agency for Illinois. “An insurmountable barrier to modernizing and reforming the state system for youth in custody is that there are too many local and state judicial entities and executive agencies that play a role in the oversight of the system. As a result, the accountability system is ineffective and determining who is responsible is illusive.”

Full report available at


This publication is made possible by funding support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of Equip for Equality and do not represent the official views of these agencies.

Last updated: March 17, 2023

This website is made possible by funding support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, both the Administration on Developmental Disabilities and the Center for Mental Health Services of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. The contents of this website are solely the responsibility of Equip for Equality and do not necessarily represent the official view of any of these agencies.

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