Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Arthur J. Audy Home in Chicago was the largest juvenile jail in the world.

Chicago's juvenile justice system serves three distinct categories of children: delinquent, neglected, and abused. In the nineteenth century, children lived alongside adults in Illinois' poorhouses, asylums, and jails. Between 1855 and the Great Fire of 1871, convicted boys were sent to the Chicago Reform School. After the fire destroyed the building, they went to the State Reform School at Pontiac. In 1899, the women of Hull House and the men of the Chicago Bar Association succeeded in passing legislation for a separate juvenile court system after a 30-year campaign.
Initially, boys were held in a cottage and stable at 233 Honore Street, while girls were housed at an annex of the Harrison Street police station. Although these arrangements were recognized as an improvement over city jail, escapes, attacks, and underfunding within the first two years led to the establishment of the Detention Home, operated by the Juvenile Court Committee (JCC) in conjunction with the city and county. Children were fed for eleven cents per day, but JCC philanthropists persuaded the Chicago Board of Education to provide a teacher in 1906, and by 1907 a new court building was established with facilities which separated delinquent boys, delinquent girls, and dependent children.

The Cook County Juvenile Court was the nation's first separate court for children. Under the principle of parens patriae, the state as parent, children's trials were informal hearings without legal counsel. In addition to the usual run of adult crimes, children could be charged with offenses such as truancy, incorrigibility, and sexual delinquency. But the creation of a distinct process for minors presented only a limited victory for the reformers. The court relied heavily upon institutionalization rather than the family preservation initially envisioned by reformers. On the court's twenty-fifth anniversary reformers lamented that it had become bureaucratic, unresponsive, and overburdened.

A 1935 Illinois Supreme Court decision restricted its power to those cases that the state's attorney chose not to prosecute in adult court.

Arthur J. Audy served in the Navy during World War II and upon his return, was superintendent of the center at Roosevelt Road and Ogden Avenue. As part of the job, he and his family were required to live in an on-site apartment. They had to be buzzed into their home by security, and outside their door was a hallway with doors that led to where the juveniles were housed. Arthur Audy suffered a heart attack and died in March 1950 at 38. Mrs. Audy briefly served as acting superintendent, and at the request of child welfare agencies, the Cook County board named the detention center after her husband.

A 1963 citizens committee report criticized the juvenile court for having limited and contradictory jurisdiction, overworked judges, and overburdened and underqualified staff, consisting predominantly of patronage appointees.
Audy Home Classroom, 1963.
In 1965 the state legislature overhauled the Illinois Juvenile Court Act, giving significant legal protections to minors, including the provision of a public defender. The 1967 U.S. Supreme Court Gault decision further extended the rights of accused juveniles to due process. During the next decade, however, public opinion demanded harsher treatment. A 1982 revision to the Illinois Habitual Juvenile Offender Act decreed that any juvenile aged 15 or older charged with murder, armed robbery, or sexual assault face prosecution in adult criminal court and, if convicted, commitment to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

While the scope of juvenile delinquency laws has been increasingly limited over the last three decades, the scope of child protection laws has greatly expanded. The 1975 Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act gave the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) great latitude in interpreting the “child's best interest.” The number of abused and neglected minors entering the court system has skyrocketed, with more and more entering DCFS custody for protection from neglect. Reformers argued that children removed to state care received minimal levels of treatment and often languished for years in “temporary” foster placements. Lawsuits filed in 1986 against the Cook County Guardian and in 1991 against DCFS resulted in sweeping changes in personnel and policies.

In 1997 between 1,500 and 2,000 cases were heard every day, representing 25,000 active delinquency and 50,000 active abuse and neglect cases. Minority youths (95 percent) and males (90 percent) were disproportionately represented. Only 6 percent of delinquency cases involved serious violent offenders. Two-thirds of the court's caseload consisted of abuse and neglect cases, which reformers linked to increased rates of poverty, decline in high-wage jobs, and drastic cutbacks in welfare and social services for families and children.
Today's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, located above the 31 courtrooms constituting Juvenile Court at 1100 S Hamilton Avenue has an official capacity of 500 youngsters awaiting delinquency adjudication or trial in adult criminal court. Popularly still known as the "Audy Home," this facility's overcrowding and economic distress, as well as questions about appropriate programming, punishment, and safety, continue to challenge reformers. The center's Nancy B. Jefferson School, operated by the Chicago Board of Education, teaches 500 detained children each day. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Once again, thank you for this informative piece. I worked for a branch of the Audy home in 1973-74. All of my students had parole officers and had been convicted of serious crimes.

  2. While waiting for placement, I lived as a ward of the state in the old Audy Home in 1958. At eight, I was the youngest girl there. It housed criminals, retarded, and neglected children. It offered no worthwhile schooling, no positive influence or mentorship and no kindness by the staff, who treated everyone as worthy of incarceration - as we were all held behind bars, with no outdoor time, and nothing constructive or enjoyable to pass the long hours. They even put those who rebelled in solitary confinement, (Blackstone) which was a cell in the basement. I will never forget this horrible place. It still haunts me. The experience changed me forever.I am writing about it in my memoir, "ward of the state" which I expect to publish in 2019-20.

  3. Funny. "Audy Home" was a fantasy place for bad boys when I went to greade school in the 1950's. This is the first time today that I found out that it's real!

  4. Is there a way to get records on people do were sent there? My father, who past away, was sent there as a child. I'm curious as to why.

    1. Doubtful as the Audy Home was a Juvenile Detention Center, thus the records would be expunged when the child became an adult.

    2. Are you serious! Audie was well know, and used as a threat by parents, school,so called friends, police, and everyone. I learned of Audie in the 60s as a Chicago resident. The place, and it's reputation is well known!

    3. I was a resident in 1969/70. It was a dangerous place for a white kid let me tell ya!

  5. I was an inmate in 1961. No talking, no outside, no tv, The only thing to look forward to was church bc there were boys there. Two girls tried to break out at night by calling the matron. They tried to throw a blanket over her head and was going to hit her with wooden coat hangers. Second floor was for the not so bad girls, mentally handicapped and orphans. I was there for 3 months. 2 mo court ordered and one voluntary. It was better than home. After the third they sent me back home. The only other place to send girls was Geniva womens pen, at least that was what we were told.

  6. My dad was there possibly between the ages of 13 and 17, or 1944-47. He passed away in 2010. Never talked about it, other than to say he was in the Audy home which he explained was a reform school for kids who got into trouble. Only wish I knew more.

  7. Thanks for having this information available. I was there as a 6-7 year old. I can account for it being a terrible place. The thought of having kids ranging from 7 to high school age living in the same space with limited monitoring was ridiculous and stupid. How I survived that place, I will never know.


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