Youth Activists: Juvenile Inmates “Treated Like Animals.”


Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in partnership with Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood:

Going without clean clothes for weeks. Eating bad food. Suffering violence. These are realities of the juvenile justice system in Cook County, according to youth organizations and experts who spoke at Roosevelt University March 10 in an event organized by the group Fearless Leading by Youth (FLY) and the Southwest Youth Collaborative to expose how teens are treated in detention facilities.

It was a shame to hear how the youth inmates are being treated at the Audy Home detention facility on the Southwest side. At the event, youth leaders said the detained youth have to wear the same jumpsuits and underwear for up to two weeks before getting clean ones. And they said the food being served was weeks past its expiration date, causing many of the young inmates to become ill.

Hearing their descriptions made me cringe inside and wonder how I could help. The food and lack of clothing changes weren’t the only things of concern. Violence was an even bigger topic. The speakers said that in 2007, a “riot” broke out at the Audy Home and chairs, computer monitors and keyboards were thrown. Security guards and employees were hurt, according to media reports. But speakers at Roosevelt said the juvenile detainees were also hurt, and it took weeks or even months for their cuts and bruises to fully heal.

This incident caused the small youth organization FLY to take action. They protested and marched to the Audy Home, which was established in 1899 when Jane Addams and other advocates and lawyers from the Chicago Bar Association decided children should be removed from adult jails and put in separate places.

During their protest in 2007, members of FLY marched up to the Audy Home and banged on the door. An administrator named Earl Dunlap, who is still at Audy Home, refused to let them in to obtain information from the inmates, the FLY members said. They could tell they would never be let in to see first-hand how young inmates were treated, so they decided to try something different. They asked if they could volunteer and provide about 300 jumpsuits and pairs of underclothes and other personal items. They were given access to several parts of the center, and got the chance to speak to the youths detained there, they said.

They were told that youth were “treated like animals,” as FLY members said at Roosevelt. One young detainee said he found pests in his eggs at breakfast. The FLY member felt like that was disgusting and something should be done about it. The group called the Chicago Department of Public Health and asked them to start an investigation of the food at the Audy Home. The youth leaders said that because of this, things have improved at the Audy Home, even though many problems remain.

Spokespersons for the Audy Home did not respond to emailed questions that they had requested for this story. “The underwear brigade – we’ve had a lot of inquiries about that,” said Audy Home spokeswoman Gillian Marshall about the 2007 protest. She asked that further questions be sent by email, but department spokespeople did not return follow-up calls after questions were emailed.

Youth in attendance at the event said the situation with juvenile justice reveals bigger problems in how youth are treated.

“Freedom is withheld when it comes to our youth. We have no freedom or voice,” said Maryn Salazar, 16, a freshman at Roberto Clemente High School. Benjamin Banneker elementary school student Makylia Anderson, 14, said, “I felt like it was uncaring. They should start a protest to prevent delinquents from suffering like that.”

Ruthie Butler, a staff member of Imagine Englewood If, said the youth’s Fifth Amendment rights were being violated. The Fifth Amendment protects against abuses of government authority.

“I would make sure their rights under the constitution are not violated,” she said. “Even though they are incarcerated.”

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