Many More Former Young Prisoners Sue Over Reported Sexual Abuse in Illinois Detention Centers

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A significant number of former young prisoners have sued for sexual abuse allegedly suffered in Illinois detention centers since the late 1990s. This has led to two separate lawsuits submitted on Friday in the Illinois Court of Claims against the state Department of Corrections and the state Department Juvenile Justice by women and 95 men. Each plaintiff is asking for $2 million, which is the highest possible per law.

“Stopping this awful behavior by the state of Illinois and by the juvenile justice system that has lasted for decades is mandatory,” Jerome Block, a lawyer for former inmates, said at a Monday press meeting.


Accusations and Reaction

The Department of Juvenile Justice issued a statement acknowledging they knew about the lawsuits “related to accusations from past administrations.” The department stressed their commitment to youth safety and that any claims of staff misconduct are immediately investigated. They often cooperate with various organizations like the state Department of Corrections, Illinois State Police, and Department of Children Family Services for this purpose. The department asserted that all their employees undergo background checks as well as receive regular training and professional growth.

The complaints contain many upsetting claims that guards, teachers, and counsellors at eight youth detention centers around Illinois sexually abused prisoners between 1997 and 2019. Often repeated instances of assault happened on children over several months with some reports suggesting shortened sentences or snacks or extra free time as rewards for silence.


Personal Experiences

A female plaintiff stated being groped under her clothes by a guard when she was only 15 years old at Warrenville detention center in 2012. She claimed another guard sexually abused her in a bathroom later giving her a candy bar as an incentive to stay quiet.

A male plaintiff at a detention center in St. Charles in 1997 alleged he was given food, extra outdoor hours, and additional TV time as reward for complying with two guards. He reported being confined inside his cell as backlash when he flagged the abuse. He also recounted similar instances of misconduct at other centers where he was transferred to.


Testimony by M.B.

In the lawsuit filed by male prisoners, a plaintiff referred to as M.B highlighted regular sexual assaults by a guard at the now closed Murphysboro facility around 2009. The guard warned him of an extended sentence of five years if anyone was told about it and gave him beverages and snacks for enduring the abuse. His grievance went unattended, according to his lawsuit.

“These experiences have prompted ongoing emotional turmoil till date,” said M.B at the press meeting. “It gave me a feeling of worthlessness, akin to being subhuman.”

The lawyers representing former youth inmates have filed similar complaints nationwide. Last month included lawsuits on behalf of 95 former juveniles who allege similar sexual abuse at Illinois detention centers between 1997 and 2017, each also seeking $2 million in damages.


System Failures

Speaking at Monday’s news conference Jerome Block made it clear that laying blame on past administrations does not absolve taking responsibility for such serious physical violations which can’t occur without negligence or lack of oversight.”

The lawyers have represented clients alleging that guards, nurses, and leaders on duty took advantage sexually in Michigan’s juvenile detention system along with Maryland’s and New York City’s.

In New Hampshire over 1,100 ex-inmates have filed lawsuits since last year claiming physical or sexual abuse going back over six decades. At least eleven staff members were arrested with more than a hundred others named in the claims.


Need for Reform

A plaintiff from the suits demanding reforms stated, “I want to restore humanity to the juvenile justice system for the sake of future generations as well as my own children.”

The lawyers have requested Governor J.B. Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul get involved directly to accept accountability and take steps for preventing future abuse.


Specific Accusations

In the lawsuits filed by female and male prisoners’ allegations include,

  • Prisoners facing threats of physical harm, extended sentences or denial of phone & visitation rights if they resisted sexual acts.
  • Prisoners facing attacks within their cells.
  • Prisoners pressured into sexual activities in exchange for perks like extra snacks or outdoor time.
  • Prisoners enduring groping disguised as strip searches.

Jermaine Bell, a former detainee, told reported to the press that he had been mistreated the St. Charles facility in 2005 and 2006. He claimed that when he revealed abuse, they medicated him, telling him he was having hallucinations. Afterwards, they moved him to a high security facility.

“Even today, I still endure the impact of the abuse and my personal relationships have been negatively affected,” Bell stated. “I understand my life will never return to its former state.”

The lawyers that female inmates, whose numbers are significantly fewer than male detainees overall, underwent abuse more frequently.

Celina Brooks

Celina Brooks from Mussoorie is a Writer & Researcher. She earned her Engineering degree in IT from Rutgers University. She is a technology enthusiast but loves writing and talking about local news as well. She is a jolly person with 2 children.

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