Head of Cook County adult probation removed
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
by Cythia Dizikes & Todd Lightly
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans shook up the court's beleaguered adult probation department Monday by removing the agency’s longtime head — a change of leadership he said would better serve the public.
The move comes after a Tribune investigation in December found that the department has lost track of hundreds of convicts and overlooked new crimes committed by offenders, some of whom went on to rape or kill while under the court’s watch.
The decision, announced in a news release, also comes as the Illinois Supreme Court prepares what is expected to be a critical report on how the department has run pre-trial services, a unit that helps judges decide whether defendants should be kept in jail or released into the community while their criminal cases wend through the courts.
Evans appointed Jesus Reyes in August 2005 to become acting chief probation officer, but never formally made the title permanent, a fact that sources said left many questioning the department’s leadership.
For the last couple years, sources said, department employees have reached out to Evans with those management concerns as well as other deficiencies, but felt they were largely ignored by the chief judge.
On Monday, Evans thanked employees “for the dedication and professionalism that led many of you to bring your concerns and suggestions to me on how to improve our adult probation departments,” according to an internal memo obtained by the Tribune.
In his news release, Evans announced Reyes was being replaced as both the head of adult probation and of the social service department where he has served as director since August 1999. While the adult probation department primarily oversees felony offenders, the social service department mostly handles those who have been convicted of misdemeanors.
Lavone Haywood, an assistant chief probation officer who has been with the department for more than three decades, was named as the new head of the adult probation department. Sharon Hoffman, the assistant director of the social service department, will become the new director.
“Mr. Reyes is expected to continue serving the court as an advisor of research and policy,” the news release stated.
The adult probation department, with roughly 550 employees and a $37 million budget, is under the supervision of Chief Judge Evans.
Evans did not respond to follow up questions about his personnel changes.
Reyes declined to comment. Reyes has previously defended the overall work of the adult probation department, and has pointed to loss of manpower and antiquated technology systems as contributing to the department's shortcomings.
The number of people working in the probation department has shrunk by about 26 percent since 2005 because of layoffs and retirements, Reyes told the Tribune in December. He said many employees juggle caseloads heavier than the state recommends.
The Tribune previously reported that the dysfunctional department had fallen short of its mission of holding offenders accountable and creating safer neighborhoods. The story highlighted the case of Micheail Ward, a gang member accused in 2013 of killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton while he was on probation.
As in Ward’s case, the Tribune found other instances in which the department conducted sloppy and incomplete case work. Probation officers readily accepted offender accounts that they were not in a gang and had not picked up new arrests when a routine criminal records check could have immediately shown otherwise.
Records showed the probation department also gave potentially dangerous offenders repeated breaks when they violated curfew or other conditions of their release. One such probationer, who was convicted of sexually attacking a teenage girl, went on to rape a 13-year-old girl while out after curfew.
Internal figures from last November showed that more than 1,300 probationers were on the department’s “60-day” list — a list of all those on probation who have not been seen by their officer for at least two months.
Some of those had been rearrested and taken back to jail or had died. But probation officers told the Tribune that many were unaccounted for or had disappeared.
Evans also announced the court is seeking to replace the “outdated” electronic case management system that the adult probation and social service departments use, in part, to track probationer compliance with court-ordered conditions.
“The old system, frankly, hampered the ability of the officers to do their jobs; a new system will give the probations departments’ staff the up-to-date technology that has been sorely lacking,” Evans was quoted as saying in the release.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has, in the past, said the problems in adult probation stem from a “lack of management.”
A county spokesman said in a statement Monday that Preckwinkle was “pleased” with the leadership changes and that the county was moving forward with plans for a new $4 million computer system to manage the cases of thousands of probationers.