FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Statement by Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, December 20, 2013
Released On 12/20/2013
Here, in Cook County, any meaningful discussion on how to improve court operations must be guided by what justice requires, not by politics. And that discussion must be grounded in the facts. The Cook County Board President is not completely faithful to the facts.
The Supreme Court is overseeing efforts to improve pretrial services in Illinois, and I applaud those efforts. I am open to any meaningful suggestions as to how our judges hearing criminal matters can more efficiently handle their ever growing workload. However, progress is stalled when we are cutting corners and receiving only five cents of every tax dollar from the County Board President.
Since I took office in 2001, the court’s operating budget has been cut 24.4 percent—from $178.9 million to $135.6 million.
Our pretrial services, as well as our probation department, can be improved. I have been striving to improve bond court operations since 2008, but I have been blocked, especially when I first began to seek funding from the Cook County Board to fund a stand-alone pretrial services program. The court has not received a single penny. Our entire pretrial services effort has been created by taking personnel and positions from the Adult Probation Department. We have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, as the saying goes.
President Preckwinkle, on December 15, 2013, misspoke when she said, “We have fulfilled the chief judge’s requests for extra positions throughout the year.” That simply is not true. We had to wait until November of this year before she would approve the hiring of 23 probation officers. We have been trying since 2008 to get the go-ahead from Cook County to replace the probation department’s outdated information system.
The President wants the public to believe that the jail is overcrowded because judges are not doing their jobs.
According to the facts, this is simply not true.
From June 1, 2013, through November 30, 2013, more than 33,000 persons had bond hearings in that five month period. Of those, judges gave recognizance bonds to 6,430, electronic monitoring to 5,552 and D-bonds to 5,882, potentially diverting more than 17,800, or 53%, from the jail.
And is the jail overcrowded? Facts will show there are open beds.
As of June 1, 2013, there were 10,155 persons being held in the jail. As of December 19, 2013, there were 9,272. According to the Sheriff, the bed capacity of the jail in February 2013 was 10, 157. This summer he and President Preckwinkle added 970 additional beds in the new medical unit. As of December 19, 2013, that results in 1,855 open beds.
The judges and I are working through several options to improve and enhance court operations.
I have been directing a review of the Adult Probation Department since mid-summer of this year to identify and resolve issues. The Juvenile Justice Division is partnering with a nationally renowned organization to prepare for the influx of 17 year-olds come January 1. While Cook County judges are meeting the national standard in disposing of 80% of the felony cases filed within one year, there is always room for improvement. We are working collaboratively with the State’s Attorney, the Public Defender, the City of Chicago, and the Illinois State Police. We believe we have identified important steps that can be taken to help us reach that goal. Included among these steps are reducing the period of time between the preliminary hearing and the assignment call, from 21 days to 14 days and working with the City of Chicago and the Illinois State Police to make evidence available in court more quickly.
We also would like to be able to supply the 47 Criminal Division judges with more law clerks to help them research the laws on sentencing and other pertinent matters.
However, improving court operations comes down to one thing alone: adequate funding. Any expansion of the bond court takes resources for additional State’s Attorneys, Public Defenders, Sheriff’s personnel, court clerks and court reporters. The creation of a stand-alone pretrial services department takes resources as does increasing juvenile probation services for the soon-to-be expanded population of court-involved minors. The court simply cannot continue to have its budget cut year after year and be expected to produce optimum results.
Unlike others, the judiciary is obligated to hear both sides and weigh the facts evenly before making decisions. No one knows more clearly than the judiciary that justice delayed is justice denied.
Let’s set aside the personal politics and focus on doing the best job possible for all citizens of Cook County.
We believe the court should receive the necessary funding from the County Board and the Cook County Board President to help judges do justice for the people of Cook County.