Illinois Juvenile Detention Center Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Recent investigations and victims who have come forward have shown that inmates at juvenile detention facilities in Illinois were subject to sexual abuse and sexual assault by staff and other inmates. Victims of sexual abuse at Illinois juvenile detention centers are now coming forward and filing lawsuits against the state and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

Recent Illinois Detention Center Lawsuits Update

May 28, 2024: New Detention Center Lawsuit

A lawsuit filed on behalf of 95 former juvenile detainees alleges widespread sexual abuse at Illinois’ juvenile detention centers over more than two decades. The plaintiffs claim abuse by both male and female staff members, with the allegations covering incidents until 2017 and asserting that abuse continues.

The lawsuit references a 2013 DOJ report indicating high rates of staff sexual misconduct in Illinois, particularly at the now-closed Joliet detention center which we talk about a great deal below.

February 4, 2024: Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center

The Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center in southern Illinois is set to close. The stated reasons are staffing shortages and an inability to meet new state standards for youth treatment. There are also a lot of allegation of sexual abuse at that center.

January 6, 2024: Systemic Problem at Detention Centers

Advocates for juvenile justice reform are addressing recent complaints about Illinois’ juvenile detention centers, following an investigation revealing unsanitary conditions and mistreatment of youth. The Juvenile Justice Initiative argues that detention centers fail at rehabilitation, likening them to adult jails.

Inspections found non-compliance in admissions, discipline, and mental health services at facilities in Sangamon and Adams counties. Staffing shortages and inadequate medical care were prominent issues, prompting calls for system overhaul and increased oversight.

These are the exact environments where sex abuse thrives. Sexual abuse is more prevalent in improperly operating detention centers due to a combination of factors such as inadequate staffing, lack of proper training, and insufficient oversight. Staffing shortages can lead to unsupervised interactions between staff and detainees, creating opportunities for abuse. Poorly trained staff may not follow protocols designed to protect the youth, while the absence of rigorous oversight allows abusive behavior to go unchecked. These conditions foster a culture of negligence and impunity, enabling sex offenders to exploit and molest vulnerable detainees without fear of consequences​.

History of Problems in Illinois

Illinois has a troubling history of abuse and physical harassment within its juvenile detention facilities, as highlighted by high-profile legal cases, criminal charges, and extensive investigations.

The State of Illinois has fostered a culture of physical and sexual abuse within its IYC facilities for decades, being aware of the endemic conditions connected to abuse in juvenile detention facilities. The abuse was often accompanied by force, compulsion, undue influence, duress, coercion, intimidation, and threats of physical harm or retaliation, thus lacking consent.

Results of Federal Investigations

A federal investigation by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics examined abuse at seven Illinois youth detention centers, including those in Chicago, Harrisburg, Joliet, Kewanee, St. Charles, Warrenville, and Pere Marquette.

In June 2013, the DOJ’s National Survey of Youth in Custody revealed that Illinois was among the four worst states for abuse in juvenile detention facilities. This report led to emergency hearings in the state Legislature, showing that 15% of youth inmates across all state facilities reported experiencing some form of abuse, largely due to high rates of staff misconduct, a figure approximately 35% higher than the national average. At the now-closed Illinois Youth Center in Joliet, 21% (more than double the national average) of youth reported abusive contact with staff, including instances of force.

Between April 2009 and 2012, rates of reported abuse by staff increased significantly at IYC facilities in Harrisburg (11.8% to 14.7%), Joliet (13.9% to 20%), and Kewanee (5.7% to 12%). By 2013, Illinois’s abuse rate was still 35% higher than the national average, primarily due to high rates of staff misconduct. Despite these alarming statistics, abuse of children in Illinois’ juvenile detention facilities continues today.

In addition to these damning DOJ reports, other high-profile cases have shown Illinois’s failure to address its systemic abuse problem for decades. Evidence from public filings and settlements has also revealed that the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and various state-run juvenile detention facilities overwhelmingly failed to investigate complaints, report abusive staff, and protect youth inmates.

Illinois Sex Abuse Detention Centers of Greatest Concern

Illinois Youth Center Chicago

Illinois Youth Center Chicago was originally designed as a maximum-security facility for anticipated “super-predators,” this prediction proved inaccurate. Now, it serves a minimum-security all-male population. The facility has no foliage, and outdoor recreation is limited to a sally port with a basketball goal. Despite being minimum-security, residents live in prison-like cells. Occasionally, it has housed female youth.

Illinois Youth Center Joliet

The only all-male maximum-security facility in Cook County, Joliet housed three distinct populations: maximum-security-classified youth, juvenile technical parole violators, and juvenile parolees charged with adult crimes. The stark, institutional environment conflicted with the IDJJ’s rehabilitative mission. The facility closed in 2013 due to “budgetary concerns.”  This place has a lot bigger problems than it budgets.  In 2011, a male guard at the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet was sentenced to six years in prison for assaulting a 17-year-old in 2008. The Illinois Youth Center at Joliet will have more than its fair share of sex abuse lawsuits in the months and years to come.

Illinois Youth Center Harrisburg

Opened in July 1983, this medium-security, all-male facility is located in southeastern Illinois.

Illinois Youth Center Pere Marquette

Opened in March 1963, this minimum-security, all-male facility is located in Grafton, Illinois, about an hour outside of St. Louis. It has a capacity of 40.

Illinois Youth Center St. Charles

A medium-security, all-male facility in St. Charles, Illinois, with a 12-to-1 staff-to-youth ratio. Despite this, the center has faced security staff shortages until recently. In June 2021, a woman pled guilty to felony official misconduct for engaging in sexual misconduct with a minor at the Illinois Youth Detention Center in St. Charles. The incident occurred in October 2020 while she was employed as a juvenile justice specialist at the center.

Illinois Youth Center Warrenville

Illinois’ only co-ed juvenile detention facility. In 2000, a former teacher at the Illinois Youth Center-Warrenville was charged with criminal abuse for inappropriate contact with two teenage residents. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to misdemeanor criminal abuse in 2002. That was not the only one.   In 2006, Barnett Gill, a 28-year veteran of the Illinois Department of Corrections, was convicted of having inappropriate sexual contact with a 16-year-old female inmate at IYC-Warrenville, where he was a supervisor.

Illinois Youth Center Kewanee

This mixed medium/maximum-security, all-male facility was closed in 2016. Kewanee faced chronic understaffing, which was particularly dangerous for the high-risk population with acute mental illnesses. On top of other problems, its location often posed barriers to family and legal visits – and it is easier to sexually abuse children out in the middle of nowhere.

Illinois Youth Center Murphysboro

A minimum-security center, formerly known as Southern Illinois’ Minimum Facility for Boys. It operated under a boot camp model until its closure in 2013. In 2003, an employee at the Illinois Youth Center-Murphysboro was arrested on multiple felony counts for abuse. The defendant, a kitchen supervisor, used his position to take advantage of several cadets working with him in the kitchen.

Illinois Youth Center Valley View

A minimum-security, all-male facility in a suburban area west of Chicago. The juvenile facility housed the state’s experimental Sex Offender Treatment Program from 1991 until its closure in 2002.

What Qualifies as “Sexual Abuse or Assault”?

For legal purposes, sexual abuse or sexual assault is defined as any type of unwanted and non-consensual sexual contact or touching. The two essential elements that define sexual assault are (1) lack of consent and (2) sexual intent. Children cannot legally consent to sexual contact, so any case involving a child satisfies the first element. As for sexual intent, this element requires that the touching involve sexual parts of the body and be done with the purpose of sexual gratification.

Holding Illinois Juvenile Detention Centers Liable for Sexual Abuse

Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault at an Illinois juvenile facility or juvenile detention center can get financial compensation by bringing a civil lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. DJJ can be held liable in a civil lawsuit for negligently failing to protect the victim or prevent the abuse from happening.

In most cases, sexual abuse occurred at the facility and was committed by staff members. In that situation, DJJ will have clear liability for the incident. Even when another inmate or juvenile commits the abuse or assault, DJJ can still be held liable for failing to provide adequate protection.

Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act

The Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (ANCRA), found at 325 ILCS 5/3 et seq., mandates that certain professionals and institutions in Illinois report any suspected child abuse or neglect. This law aims to protect children by ensuring that suspicions are promptly communicated to the appropriate authorities for investigation and intervention.

The Act specifies that abuse includes physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional harm inflicted on a child by a caregiver, while neglect refers to the failure of a caregiver to provide adequate supervision, food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.

Reports must be made directly to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) via a toll-free hotline or other designated channels. Mandated reporters are protected from liability when they make reports in good faith, and their identities are kept confidential, with certain exceptions.

Mandated reporters under this law include individuals such as medical professionals, teachers, social workers, law enforcement officers, and childcare providers. These individuals are required to report immediately if they have reasonable cause to believe that a child they know in their professional or official capacity may be abused or neglected.

So these detention centers had an obligation to not just internally investigate alleged sexual abuse but report it to the authorities.  Juvenile hall institutions that fail to comply with these requirements can also face penalties, highlighting the Act’s role in promoting accountability and vigilance in the care and protection of children.

Settlement Value of Juvenile Detention Center Sex Abuse Cases

Many lawsuits in these cases ask for $2 million or more in damages due to the profound and lasting impact of the abuse, the egregiousness of the institutions’ failures, and the comprehensive costs associated with the victim’s recovery and ongoing needs. Calculating settlement amounts in juvenile detention center sex abuse lawsuits in Illinois involves several factors, including the severity of the abuse, the impact on the victim, and the institution’s level of negligence. Here are some key elements considered in these calculations:

  • Severity and Duration of Abuse: The nature and extent of the sexual abuse, including how long it lasted and the physical and psychological harm inflicted on the victim, significantly influence a sex abuse settlement amount.
  • Impact on the Victim: This includes both the immediate and long-term effects on the victim’s mental health, ability to function in daily life, and future prospects. Our detention center sex abuse lawyers often get assessments by psychologists and other experts often provide evidence of the victim’s trauma and its effects.
  • Institutional Negligence: The degree of negligence or misconduct can also drive detention center sex abuse payouts. The more a jury is likely to be angered by the failure to prevent abuse, inadequate supervision, and ignoring reports of abuse, the bigger the settlement usually is. So institutions with clear evidence of systemic failure typically face higher settlement amounts.
  • Economic Damages: Most cases our detention center sex abuse lawyers see do not include significant economic damages. But we do get claims where there are economic losses. These cover the costs of medical treatment, psychological counseling, lost wages, and any other economic impacts suffered by the victim.
  • Non-Economic Damages: These include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-economic harms. These are more subjective and often result in significant portions of the settlement. This is the category under which the jury delivers its compensation award.
  • Punitive Damages: In cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, courts may award punitive damages to punish the institution and deter future misconduct. The risk of punitive damages can drive settlement amounts in these cases.

How Illinois Detention Center Lawsuits Work

Suing only the perpetrators is usually a dead end because they almost invariably lack the financial resources to compensate victims adequately. But there is also a bigger picture here.  Holding individual abusers accountable does not address systemic issues within the institution that allowed the abuse to occur. Institutional defendants, such as state agencies, are better positioned to provide compensation and implement changes to prevent future abuse. This allows the victims to be compensated and prevents future abuse.

What are the claims against the juvenile detention centers?  It all starts with duty to these children.  The state had a legal obligation to safeguard these minors, including providing them with basic needs and making sure they are safe from sexual assault from the other children and the very people assigned to protect and care for them. The state breached these duties, leading to widespread physical and sexual abuse within juvenile detention facilities. They have to protect these kids – most of whom are vulnerable children in spite of any problems they have had – from physical and psychological harm.

They clearly did not do that. Despite prior reports of abuse, the State of Illinois and its employees did not take adequate measures to prevent further harm. This negligence included failing to supervise staff, implement sufficient policies, train employees properly, and ensure safety procedures were effective. Additionally, these juvenile detention center lawsuits highlight a systemic issue of inadequate response to reports of abuse, leading to continued victimization.

These children have suffered significant physical, emotional, and psychological harm due to this negligence, experiencing pain, distress, loss of self-esteem, and other long-term effects of abuse.  Illinois detention center sex abuse lawsuits seek compensation for these damages and hold the State of Illinois accountable for its failure to protect vulnerable minors in its juvenile detention facilities.

Contact Our Illinois Juvenile Detention Center Sex Abuse Lawyers

Our Illinois juvenile detention center sex abuse lawyers represent victims in sex abuse lawsuits. Call us at 800-553-8082 or contact us online for a free case evaluation.

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