Evans Seeks More Probation Officers.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by John Flynn Rooney
In the wake of complaints about jail crowding and cases lingering too long in the criminal court system, Cook County's top judge wants more probation officers.
Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans appeared Friday before the Cook County Board Finance Committee to discuss his office's fiscal year 2014 budget and talked about the need for more adult probation officers. Currently, 51 of the county's 390 adult probation officers are doing double-duty by also handling pretrial services, Evans said.
"The probation officers I'm talking about are overloaded in this system," Evans said.
The chief judge's office wants staffing levels at 502 adult probation officers and 165 social service caseworkers, which would represent a total $3.4 million budget increase.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's proposed budget calls for 55 fewer positions - or 447 adult probation officers and 150 social service workers.
Having the additional staff would help move cases through the system more quickly. The officers could provide case-by-case details to judges that could result in more defendants being released on bond and probation, which would keep them out of jail and reduce the case backlog.
During the hearing, Evans and Andrea Gibson, the county's budget director, disagreed about whether Evans could fill vacant probation office positions under the current budget. Gibson said the chief judge's office never requested to fill 30 adult probation department positions in the current budget. Evans contended Preckwinkle's administration informed him he could not fill those vacancies.
Commissioner Lawrence 1. Suffredin Ir. urged Evans and the president's office to discuss and resolve their differences involving the budget.
"If that money is properly applied, it is a huge amount of money that it will save the people of Cook County by our making the court system more efficient and impact the overcrowding at the jail, which is the No.1 ... recommendation that we need to work on," Suffredin said.
"If we don't do it, we have the potential of increasing the jail population, which is the exact opposite of what we want to do."
Evans began his remarks with an explanation of the three branches of government and the separation of powers between those branches. He also asserted that the judiciary is not getting its fair share of money from the county's overall budget.
The budget process comes as tension lingers between Evans and Preckwinkle.
This month, Preckwinkle proposed that Cook County judges should pay the full cost of the county portion of their health insurance. She also has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to intervene in the criminal court system to reduce a backlog of cases.
Preckwinkle did not attend the Friday session; the county board president does not typically attend the finance committee's budget hearings with elected officials and department heads.
The chief judge's office requested $146.9 million in funding from the county for fiscal year 2014. Preckwinkle's budget recommends a $140.6 million appropriation. Cook County judges are disposing of 80 percent of the felony matters within one year, a standard recommended by the National Center for State Courts, Evans said.
Evans told county commissioners that he and outgoing Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, whose term as chief ended last week, scheduled a meeting to discuss the criminal courts before Preckwinkle sent her letter requesting the high court's intervention. The session with the Supreme Court and others was set for Oct. 1 and 2 but was rescheduled until next month, he said.
"We are working on trying to come up with a track system that will allow us to resolve (felony) cases even more quickly," Evans told the commissioners. After the Friday afternoon session, Evans said, "I didn't speak to a single commissioner who disagreed with the needs I set out. They all recommended that we be amenable to compromise so that we can move forward. I'm very pleased."
The county board is expected to vote on a new budget before the fiscal year 2014 budget begins Dec. I.