After working in the juvenile
justice system for 40 years, Earl Dunlap had little difficulty identifying what was wrong with Cook County's home for troubled youth: Pretty much everything.
The lawsuit alleged physical and sexual abuse of children by facility employees, filthy
conditions, inadequate medical treatment, overcrowding,
understaffing, and "chronic mismanagement".
Under a court-ordered settlement in 2002, Cook County officials agreed to develop a plan and a timetable for improving conditions at the center.
Even so, Wolf said, "the place remained violent, filthy, and poorly
Convinced that Cook County was incapable of
properly running the facility, the ACLU asked the court to appoint an administrator.
Dunlap has spent his entire career in the juvenile justice system. He says his decision to work with children was influenced by his mother, who was a teacher. He took a student teaching job at a juvenile center
while earning degrees in social
science and education at Siena Heights College
in Adrian, Mich.
In 1967 he took a job as a probation officer earning $6,800 a year. For extra income, he also began working at a youth home for $2.10 an hour.
Dunlap says he works in a "tough" but fulfilling field.
"It's a career filled with twists and turns.
I'm in the position of being an agent of changeâ€¦and improving the
lives of kids."
At TJDC, Dunlap says, the changes have to start at the top.
"It take two things to bring about change in a system," he said. "Empowerment and leadership."
"The finger has been pointed at the
so-called staff," he said, "but really the problem is really that
there has been no competent leadership. You can't blame people who
have had no guidance," he said.
Dunlap says it's important to understand what juvenile detention is and what it isn't.
"Juvenile detention is an extension of the court. [It's purpose] is providing a safe, secure and humane environment - a neutral zone while their cases are under review. It's not a friend of law enforcement or the prosecutors."
David Roush, director of the National Juvenile Detention Association, who has collaborated with Dunlap on publications including "Crowding in Juvenile Detention: A Problem Solving Approach," says Dunlap's broad range of experience is one of his biggest assets.
Roush said Dunlap is skilled at reading people and organizations and won't hold back when it comes to identifying flaws. "Earl is remarkably candid in his assessment of things," said Roush. "Honesty has served him well."
Dunlap says TJDC will require more than reform.
"It has to be reconstructed," he said. His first goals are reorganization and safety.
Dunlap says the facility needs a bigger, more professional and better trained staff before its administration can be returned to Cook
"Ultimately, this place has to be run by a professional and not someone who's been thrown a political bone," he said.
Wolf is optimistic.
"We're excited to have him out there with the authority to change things," he said. Wolf said for too long the facility suffered under a system of revolving political appointments.
Both Dunlap and Wolf say it will be two years before the
center is ready to be turned over.
That won't happen, Dunlap says, until he is sure "we're doing the right thing by kids."