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Sheriff gets no help to hire court-ordered jail guards

Thursday, January 12, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Last year, a federal judge ordered Cook County commissioners to include hundreds more jail guards in their 2006 budget -- but when County Board President John Stroger unveiled that budget, he allowed for zero new guards.

The judge threatened to hold commissioners in contempt of court for violating his order -- but when Sheriff Michael Sheahan asked for 250 new jail positions, Stroger gave him none extra.

Sheahan came into a budget meeting Wednesday asking how he's going to meet a federal court order to increase staff-to-inmate ratios at the jail.

He left without an answer.

Asks for 250 new jail positions

Stroger made clear he had washed his hands of the problem, leaving it to 16 other commissioners to come up with a funding solution.

His budget director, Donna Dunnings, said it would cost $7 million to fund the jobs Sheahan wants, bringing 250 new employees on throughout this year, while jumping to $13 million in 2007.

The county is already preparing to raise the cigarette tax by $1 a pack to cover the overall $3 billion budget, but would need more to pay for new jail guards.

Commissioners avoided saying that means raising other taxes, instead saying they're seeking "revenue enhancements" and "new revenue sources," while also asking Sheahan if he could cut from his existing budget -- or shift personnel -- to meet the need.

He insists he can't do that.

Stroger also cut funds for women's jail programs -- though he promised to restore the money -- while additionally cutting contractually mandated uniform allowances for county officers.

By court order, commissioners must build on the 283 new jail jobs they added last year to meet the call for 668 overall new jobs.



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