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In June of 1970, a young Chicago lawyer, Patrick Murphy, became Chief Counsel of the Juvenile Office of Chicago's Legal Aid Society. For the next 3 years, he and his small staff wrote a new chapter in the story of "the rise and fall of the juvenile court." They brought a series of lawsuits exposing, and often putting an end to, the harsh treatment of children and adolescents confined to reform schools, detention centers, receiving homes, mental hospitals, facilities for the mentally retarded, and other institutions of incarceration for Chicago's economically deprived, "disturbed and disturbing" youngsters.

Their victories were impressive: the closing of a juvenile prison; a halt to the banishment of children to out-of-state institutions; reduction in the incidence of incarceration of runaway children; and a decision granting hearings to children, who had been taken from their parents, before the state could commit them to institutions for the mentally ill or retarded or transfer them from mental health facilities to maximum security institutions. Court rulings were obtained prohibiting the placement of juveniles in the state's "security hospital," a maximum security facility for dangerous, mentally ill adults, and limiting the use of drugs, physical restraints, solitary confinement, and other excessive forms of discipline. Private agencies receiving public funds were forced to accept minority group youngsters from overcrowded, understaffed state facilities; there was a challenge to the state welfare department's policy of coercing parents in need of social services into confessing that they had "neglected" their children and giving custody of the children to the state. Finally, there was a decision from the United States Supreme Court permitting unwed fathers to contest the removal and commitment to state custody of their children.

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