Lawsuit claims abuse at Illinois youth facilities

Sexual abuse of juvenile detainees was rampant in youth centers across Illinois for more than two decades, according to a sweeping lawsuit filed Monday.

One claimant was about 14 years old when he was raped repeatedly – sometimes daily – in his cell by an employee who revoked his yard and phone privileges if he tried to protest, according to the suit.

Another was 13 years old when a state employee repeatedly groped and harassed him, the suit claims; the employee later allegedly told him that reporting the abuse was pointless because correctional officers “stick together” and said he would get in trouble if he tried to do so again.

Another, at about age 16 , was abused by a counselor at the facility who said she would “make him feel better” by performing oral sex on him, the lawsuit states.

In all, 95 people have joined in on the suit filed in the Illinois Court of Claims alleging the state allowed sexual abuse to thrive at juvenile facilities. Some claimants independently allege abuse by the same staffers, indicating the possibility of serial abusers among facility employees.

“What’s truly outrageous is that the perpetrators were the Illinois Youth Center staff,” attorney Jerome Block told the Tribune on Monday. “They were correctional officers, they were counselors, they were even supervisors. The very people with the responsibility of keeping our clients safe were actually the ones that were perpetrating the abuse.”

The plaintiffs were boys and girls aged 12 to 17 at the time of the alleged abuses, which occurred between 1996 and 2017, Block said.

Youths in custody are particularly powerless and vulnerable, the lawsuit notes, saying the state should have known it had a systemic problem after a federal study in 2013 found Illinois’ rates of sexual victimization of in-custody youth was among the highest in the nation.

“These are children that come into the juvenile justice system and what they really need is help, they need education, they need rehabilitation, and they need to be treated in a manner that helps them get on the right path and lead productive lives,” Block said. “That is what the juvenile justice system is supposed to deliver. Instead these people had some of the worst trauma that a person can have.”

The state Department of Juvenile Justice issued a statement late Monday, saying officials were aware of the litigation.

“Although the Department is unable to comment on active litigation, IDJJ takes seriously the safety of youth in the care of the Department,” the statement read, adding such allegations are investigated with the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Illinois State Police and the Department of Children and Family Services.

“IDJJ has enacted policies and protocols to ensure the safety of youth and staff and identify any possible instances of abuse or misconduct,” it continued. “IDJJ protocols comply with both state and federal safety standards and IDJJ completes ongoing policy and protocol evaluations. All staff working in IDJJ facilities undergo background checks and training, along with participating in ongoing professional development.”

The state Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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