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Dozens more former youth inmates sue over alleged sexual abuse at Illinois detention centers

three men talking at a news conference
Luke Matthews, center, who alleges sexual abuse while in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice, addresses reporters as Michael, left, and Jermaine Bell, listen during a news conference as Donzell, left, listens Monday, June 3, 2024, in Chicago. Dozens more former youth inmates filed lawsuits Friday, seeking millions of dollars in damages for sexual abuse they allegedly endured at Illinois detention centers dating back to the late 1990s.

Dozens more former youth inmates filed lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages for sexual abuse they allegedly endured at Illinois detention centers dating back to the late 1990s.

Thirteen women and 95 men filed two separate lawsuits Friday in the Illinois Court of Claims against the state Department of Corrections and the state Department of Juvenile Justice. Each plaintiff is seeking $2 million in damages, the most allowed under law.

“This is just outrageous misconduct by the state of Illinois, by the juvenile justice system, that has persisted for decades and it has to stop,” Jerome Block, one of the former inmates’ attorneys, said during a news conference Monday.

Department of Juvenile Justice officials issued a statement Monday afternoon saying they were aware of the lawsuits “related to allegations under prior administrations.” They said the department takes youth safety seriously and that all allegations of staff misconduct are immediately investigated, often in partnership with the state Department of Corrections, the Illinois State Police and the Department of Children and Family Services.

They added that all staff working at their facilities undergo background checks as well as receive training and ongoing professional development.

The filings are packed with disturbing allegations that guards, teachers and counselors at eight juvenile detention centers around the state sexually assaulted inmates between 1997 and 2019. Often the same perpetrators would assault the same children for months, sometimes offering to shorten their sentences or giving them snacks or extra free time in exchange for their silence, according to the lawsuits.

One female plaintiff alleged she was 15 years old when she was housed at a detention center in Warrenville in 2012. A guard groped her under her clothes and on another occasion attempted to rape her in a shower area. The guard said he would put her in solitary confinement if she told anyone. The woman went on to allege that another guard sexually assaulted her in a bathroom and then gave her a Butterfinger candy bar.

A male plaintiff alleged he was 13 years old when he was housed at a detention center in St. Charles in 1997. Two guards gave him food, extra time outside his cell and extra television time as a reward for engaging in sex with them, he alleged. When he reported the abuse, the guards locked him inside his cell as punishment, he said.

The plaintiff said he was transferred to two other detention centers in Warrenville and Valley View. Guards at those centers groped him as well.
A plaintiff identified as M.B. in the male inmates’ lawsuit appeared at the news conference. According to the lawsuit, he was 17 when he was housed at a now-shuttered facility in Murphysboro in 2009.

A guard regularly sexually assaulted him while he was cleaning the facility’s solitary confinement and mental health unit, the lawsuit alleges. The guard told him that he would add five years to his sentence if he ever told anyone and gave him Gatorade and chips as a reward for enduring the assaults. M.B. filed a grievance but no one ever followed up, according to the lawsuit.

“That experience messed me up to the point where I’m going through a lot even now, to this day,” M.B. said at the news conference. “It gave me the message that no one cared about me, that I’m less than human. The code of secrecy that has allowed sexual abuse must end.”

The lawsuits note that a 2013 U.S. Department of Justice survey of incarcerated youth found Illinois was among the four worst states nationwide for sexual abuse in detention facilities.

The former youth inmates’ attorneys have filed similar lawsuits around the country.

Last month, they sued on behalf of 95 other former youth inmates who allege they were sexually abused at Illinois juvenile detention centers between 1997 and 2017.

Each of those plaintiffs is seeking $2 million as well. The state Department of Justice said in a statement in response to that lawsuit that those alleged incidents took place under former department leaders.

Block said during the news conference that blaming past administrations does not equate to taking responsibility. Such widespread, severe sexual abuse can’t happen without negligence, he said, and he’s seen nothing to indicate conditions the juvenile centers have improved.

The three Illinois lawsuits bring the total number of plaintiffs to more than 200.

The inmates’ attorneys also filed an action in Pennsylvania in May alleging 66 people who are now adults were victimized by guards, nurses and supervisors in that state’s juvenile detention system. The Illinois and Pennsylvania lawsuits follow other actions in Maryland, Michigan and New York City.

Some cases have gone to trial or resulted in settlements but arrests have been infrequent.

In New Hampshire, more than 1,100 former residents of the state’s youth detention center have filed lawsuits since 2020 alleging physical or sexual abuse spanning six decades. The first lawsuit went to trial last month, and a jury awarded the plaintiff $38 million, though the amount remains disputed. Eleven former state workers have been arrested, and more than 100 more are named in the lawsuits.
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This story has been corrected to show the end date of allegations in the newest lawsuit was 2019, not 2013.

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Associated Press

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From the National Weather Service in Central Illinois: A line of t’storms will affect the area late Thursday afternoon into the overnight hours. Some severe storms are in the forecast, with damaging wind gusts and large hail. Stay weather aware and be ready to take shelter when storms approach.