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Judge to County Board: Time to hire guards

Thursday, December 29, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by NATASHA KORECKI Federal Courts Reporter

A federal judge told Cook County commissioners Wednesday to push aside the politics of an election year and hire more jail guards as a court decree requires.

"There have been a number of people other than the County Board that have stepped up to the plate," U.S. District Judge George Marovich said. "It is time to step up to the plate."

Marovich said it was "mind-boggling" the county hasn't set aside new money in its proposed budget for more guards to help staff a crowded Cook County Jail. Representatives from the jail watchdog group the John Howard Association reported the jail was understaffed by 668 to 798 guards.

Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan told Marovich he wanted the county to pay for about 250 more jail guards in 2006 to keep up with the jail's growing population. That could cost about $15 million. But Sheahan said the proposed county budget, which could be approved in February, doesn't include any money for additional guards.

Minimum levels not being met

A 1982 federal consent decree set minimum staffing levels at the jail that aren't being met. Marovich is overseeing the decree, which was the result of a lawsuit filed by inmates.

"I think it's time they realize they're part of the decree, too," Sheahan said of Cook County commissioners.

Marovich initially scheduled a contempt-of-court hearing, but all parties agreed to talk just before commissioners take a final vote on the budget.

Cook County Board President John Stroger, who attended the hearing, said he'll ask Finance Committee Chairman John Daley to try to come up with the money to pay for more guards. Stroger said he didn't know where the money would come from.

"It'll take new revenue sources," he said.

Marovich said he realizes next year is an election year and that special-interest groups with more money than inmates will be "screaming in your political ear," but he said commissioners are responsible for following the decree.

"Nothing cannot be the number," Marovich said.

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