Miguel Rodriguez said he may never have discovered his love for art if it weren’t for a youth program he enrolled in after spending time in a juvenile detention center when he was 13.
He told a crowd at the LaFollette Park field house last week that youth programs should serve as an alternative for juveniles instead of detention centers because of the benefits of its mentoring programs.
Rodriguez, now 20, spent time at the detention center at 1100 S. Hamilton St. He recalled being put in the youth council organization, Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development, or BUILD. While there, he started painting on the walls and now sells his portraits for thousands of dollars.
“I never knew about a youth council up until then,” Rodriguez, who is now an art teacher at the council, said. “I would’ve never known I could do this if it weren’t for community-based organizations.”
Chicago youth, community organizations and elected officials gathered with Rodriguez at the Nov. 19 meeting at LaFollette to discuss concerns about Cook County juvenile temporary detention centers.
Young people do not leave the juvenile detention centers better equipped to deal with their neighborhoods, according to a report by the Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force. Instead, they leave the centers even more disconnected from their homes, schools and communities, the report stated.
The Cook County Justice Juvenile Task Force includes community organizations such as Blocks Together, BUILD, and Community Justice for Youth Institute. The task force is proposing alternatives to detention centers. Those include reinvesting funds into the community and establishing restorative justice mentoring hubs. Mental health care and safe shelter are the other alternatives. The justice hubs would serve as training centers for local residents to learn how to become more active leaders in neighborhood-safety efforts.
Last year, Cook County spent more than $38 million on juvenile detention centers, according to the report that was handed out at the meeting. Out of that $38 million, $2.88 million was spent on Austin detention centers.
Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president, along with commissioners Robert Steele and Jesus Garcia who attended the meeting, said they support the idea of restorative justice hubs. The officials also agreed to write a letter to the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative to schedule a meeting with the task force before next January. Reinvesting money back into the community, however, might prove difficult in this current economy, the officials noted.
“We’re facing a very difficult financial situation. That request is unrealistic,” Garcia said.
The task force has met with the same commissioners during the past five years, said Alexandria Navatto, youth organizer at Center of Change, who added that those officials can’t keep their promises.
“I was sitting in front of the same commissioners hearing the same thing,” said Navatto, 24. “The same promise they made to them was the same promise they made to us.”
According to Preckwinkle, the board has worked hard to reduce the number of young people detained at detention centers.
“Out of the detainees, 43 percent are there for a week or less,” she said. “If you’re only going to be there for a week, you don’t need to be there at all.”
But Navatto noted that last year, the number of youth detained at Cook County detention centers decreased from 300 per week to 249 per week. Navatto wasn’t impressed with Preckwinkle’s assessment.
“How can you tell me you only knocked it down 50 kids? You want applause for 50 kids?” she said.