Class Action Suit Charges DCFS Imprisons Kids in Jails Despite Court Orders for Their Release

DCFS Press Conference
Janiah Caine, 18, a DCFS youth in care, speaks to reporters at Thursday’s press conference. 

Wrongfully incarcerated kids deprived of urgently needed mental health resources, schooling, and access to families and other loved ones, compounding emotional and physical trauma they’ve already endured

CHICAGO – One of the most profoundly damaging scandals in Illinois history is coming to a head with the filing of a federal class action suit this morning alleging that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has willfully and wrongly incarcerated hundreds of children in its care.

Despite literally three decades of court orders, news reports and letters from informed officials, the wrongful incarcerations by top DCFS officials have continued under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Most of the children suffered physical, sexual or other traumas before they were taken into DCFS’s care, and Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert charges that DCFS imprisonments intensely magnify the harms already suffered.

A wrongfully imprisoned youth in DCFS care will speak at an 11 am press conference today at the office of her attorneys, Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, 311 N. Aberdeen Street, 4th floor, Chicago. Joining them will be Mr. Golbert and attorneys for the prospective class.

Since the late 1980s, DCFS has been well aware of its recurrent problems of wrongfully imprisoning dozens of children each year, some as young as 11-years-old.

According to the suit, “Children incarcerated in juvenile jail are confined to their cells for the majority of the day, have limited opportunities to exercise, and are exposed to unnecessary violence and dangers. Moreover, DCFS is unable to provide them the clinically appropriate mental health treatment and educational services that they need—critical resources for children who have suffered trauma and instability.”

“We intend to show through expert testimony that DCFS officials are imposing devastating harm on the young people whom it is legally and ethically obligated to protect.”

“DCFS is not only cruelly accentuating the trauma of these young people, inflicting often irreparable harm on society’s most vulnerable, they are wasting local taxpayers’ money doing so,” said Golbert. “As we detail in today’s lawsuit, housing these children in appropriate settings with the full set of social services they need would cost local taxpayers half the cost of imprisoning them in settings that deprive them of these services and only make their symptoms much worse.”

“These wrongful imprisonments and DCFS’s years of unending persistence in them are among the most brazen constitutional violations I’ve witnessed as an attorney,” said Megan Pierce, one of the attorneys for Golbert and the young people. “Wrongful imprisonment is a violation of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution..”

Mr. Golbert and the youth are represented by Jon Loevy, Russell Ainsworth, and Megan Pierce of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law.

Loevy & Loevy has previously used class action suits to force significant reforms in favor of the rights of jailed people in Illinois. In Young v. Cook County, it forced an end to gratuitously humiliating strip searches at Cook County Jail. In Dunn v. Chicago, it forced the City of Chicago to ensure that temperatures are kept at reasonably humane levels and that prisoners can sleep on rudimentary mattresses rather than cold concrete ledges. A copy of today’s suit, Charles Golbert, et al., v. DCFS, et al., No. 1:23-cv-00300, is available here.

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