Cook County prepares speedy hearings for youth, but other counties lag behind

Illinois remains wedded to closing juvenile courtrooms on weekends and holidays, even as the legality of doing so comes into question.

UPDATE: Cook County will begin holding weekend and holiday hearings for juveniles starting Nov. 5, Chief Judge Timothy Evans announced in an Oct. 7 press release. “Cook County established the first juvenile court in the nation in 1899, and we are continuing to treat juveniles humanely, with due process and with respect,” Evans said. “I look forward to moving forward in the best interest of our juveniles.”

Downstate Illinois counties are scurrying to bring their juvenile court practices in line with constitutional safeguards, after a federal lawsuit triggered changes Cook County is making to provide prompt hearings for youth arrested on weekends and holidays.

An attorney for the county told U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin on Wednesday that the judges expect by Nov. 5 to have juvenile courtrooms staffed seven days a week, ending a practice that left hundreds of youth each year illegally detained before their first hearing.

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But across the state, other counties – which are not parties to the lawsuit – continue to leave their juvenile courtrooms dark on the weekend, leaving minors arrested on weekends or holidays unable to have their case reviewed by a judge within the 48-hour constitutional guarantee.

Even though these counties do not see the same number of juvenile arrests as Cook County – Chicago alone saw 17,783 arrests of minors in 2014, according to Project NIA – “everybody has the same rights,” said Madison County Chief Judge David Hylla, “and if it shouldn’t happen for 1,000 kids, it shouldn’t happen for one kid.”

Hylla as well as court officials in Will and Winnebago counties confirmed to Injustice Watch that they are in the process of following in Cook County’s footsteps, discussing how to modify their practices to begin holding detention hearings for juveniles arrested on a weekend or holiday.

Hylla said he brought up the issue at a monthly meeting of Illinois chief judges two weeks ago after reading about the lawsuit filed this month against Cook County by the parents of four minor children who were held longer than 48 hours before a judge reviewed the charges against them.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 said that the Constitution requires that a judge review the charges within 48 hours of people being arrested; in 2012, the Justice Department made clear that the right extends to juveniles as well as adults.

But Illinois law has lagged behind, requiring prompt judicial review except on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The state legislature this year failed in trying to amend the law to meet constitutional standards; a bill to do so passed the House but died in the Senate this spring.

At the first hearing on the lawsuit, Durkin called “mind-boggling” that Cook County juveniles have routinely been held longer than 48 hours on weekends and holidays. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Ioppolo told Durkin Wednesday that several “moving parts” are involved in instituting daily hearings, including logistical issues related to transporting minors.

Cook County officials expect to hold hearings at 11 a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Durkin commented,  “There’s a lot more to this than I could have ever contemplated,” and gave the defendants, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans and Leonard Dixon, the superintendent of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, two weeks to confirm that they will change their policy beginning Oct. 31 and put it into practice Nov. 5.

“We of course want this to happen immediately, and we think that there are ongoing Fourth Amendment violations,” said Adele Nicholas, an attorney for the plaintiffs. But she said she appreciated that Chief Judge Evans and Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Toomin, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile justice division, “have taken this so seriously. … All things considered, the wheels of justice often turn very slowly.”

Neglecting to hold weekend hearings for juveniles “is a very prevalent practice across the country,” said Betsy Clarke, founder and president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative. “It’s clearly unconstitutional. It’s clearly immoral as well.”

In smaller, downstate counties, “it’s not real common that we have kids sitting in detention for more than 48 hours without seeing a judge,” Hylla said. He noted that he plans to make the change a priority to ensure that delays don’t happen.

Lake and McHenry counties also do not currently hold weekend hearings, county employees confirmed.