Cook County commissioners have approved a new fee that will make criminals pay their dues even before they get to jail.
At Tuesday's County Board meeting, commissioners voted to enact a $10 fee to be paid by anyone convicted of a crime in Cook County Circuit Court. The fee will take effect on March 1.
“I'm not particularly anxious to pile on fees on people,” Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), who sponsored the proposal, explained Wednesday. “But I do think there are some reasonable things we're doing in the court system. When the state gives us the ability to raise a fee to pay for some of these innovations, I think we should take advantage of it.”
Money earned from the fee will help finance the county's Mental Health Court, a program based at Chicago Read and Tinley Park hospitals. The court deals specifically with the county's mental health facilities.
Judges hold hearings on requests to release patients, appoint guardians and institutionalize patients from area medical hospitals.
In 2004, about 39,500 people were convicted of crimes in Circuit Court. Suffredin estimated that the new fee would bring in at least $300,000 annually for the county to improve and expand the Mental Health Court.
Several commissioners criticized the new fee during Tuesday's meeting, saying it would place too much of a burden on some of the poorest county residents.
“The minorities are going to be the most affected by these additional fees,” said Commissioner Anthony Peraica (R-Riverside).
But Suffredin defended his proposal as being necessary to help fund an important program. He pointed out that judges can waive the fee on a case-by-case basis.
“I know it's a burden,” he said, “but being convicted of a crime puts some burden on you.”