Lawsuit Claims Widespread Sex Abuse at Illinois Youth Detention Centers

A lawsuit filed on Monday accused Illinois of allowing state workers to systematically abuse juvenile prisoners for decades, the latest in a series of legal cases across the country to assert that youth correctional facilities had long failed to prevent pervasive sexual misconduct by employees.

The Illinois lawsuit, filed in the State Court of Claims by more than 90 former juvenile inmates, described guards sexually abusing teenagers in their cells and staff members using strip searches as opportunities to commit assaults. When other employees witnessed or learned about abuse, the lawsuit said, they often did nothing to stop it.

“The systems are broken,” said Todd Mathews, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who described the lawsuit as a way to “demand justice for every soul scarred by the system’s negligence.”

The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, which was named in the lawsuit, released a statement on Monday saying it “takes seriously the safety of youth in the care of the department.” It said that all allegations of misconduct were investigated but that the department would not comment on active litigation.

The department “has enacted policies and protocols to ensure the safety of youth and staff and identify any possible instances of abuse or misconduct,” the statement said. “I.D.J.J. protocols comply with both state and federal safety standards and I.D.J.J. completes ongoing policy and protocol evaluations.” All staff members working in the department, the statement added, “undergo background checks and training, along with participating in ongoing professional development.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections was also named in the suit. An official at that agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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