ROCK ISLAND (WIFR) -- Illinois' highest ranking law enforcer thinks he has a solution to save the state millions of dollars a year. But being Illinois, politics is getting in the way. Tonight 23 News investigates how changing the way felons are prosecuted could help shrink the state's debt and ease the stresses of some local workers jobs.
"I'm not the kind of person that belongs in the system," says Joe Hines.
Joe Hines has almost a year left of probation. He's on it since he let his pain pill addiction escalate to hard drugs.
"The consequences of what might have happened are quite frightening," he says.
He avoided prison. In the Illinois Department of Corrections, about five thousand inmates are low-level felons, many are there for drugs like Joe. And we're paying a lot more for them. Housing an inmate costs taxpayers 22-thousand dollars a year. Paying for probation is 32-hundred dollars. Yet its probation funding that routinely gets slashed.
"The burden is shifting to the county and these are State programs that should be properly funded by the State of Illinois. Under State law as mandated," says Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, Tom Kilbride.
Justice Kilbride thinks the State would save about 22-million dollars a year if just one-thousand non-violent offenders are shifted out of prison and into probation. So he's calling for lawmakers to restore probation funding to 100-percent.
"It's certainly politically convenient to say we need to be tough on crime. If the legislature is not serious about it then they should amend the laws and take some of these programs out," says Justice Kilbride.
"The problem is, as we reduce our prisoner count, we need to close prisons and that becomes a very political hot potato when most of the prisons are in small rural downstate communities and that is one of the major sources of employment," says State Rep. Dave Winters.
Chief Justice Kilbride says he knows a lot probation officers from living in Rock Island and traveling the State and has been hearing of their hardships for years.
Winnebago County has lost 25-percent of its probation staff just in the last few years. But the number of offenders has stayed roughly the same. So officers like Rose Dusing are forced to handle an average of 180 cases, double the state standard.
"It's more about using evidence based approaches to supervision that have shown to have a real impact on recidivism. But we need lower case loads in order to be effective with that," says Lynn Laney, Deputy Director of Adult Probation for Winnebago County.
"It's reinforced my desire to stay straight, stay clean and remain law abiding so once I complete my probation, I never want to go back there again," says Joe Hines.
Completing probation is tough. Since it now takes Joe weeks to get an appointment with his probation officer. An appointment required to remain compliant and out of the system.
Justice Kilbride wants to be clear only non-violent offenders would qualify. This is a different solution from Governor Quinn's "Early Release" program. A program that received a lot of backlash since some inmates committed additional crimes once they got out of prison.
ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- The typical probation officer in Winnebago County handles about 180 cases: that's double the state standard. Now, the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court wants to help make their jobs easier.
The Illinois Legislature has slashed probation's budget by about 20-million dollars over the last decade.
Justice Tom Kilbride is calling on lawmakers to restore funding to 100-percent. He thinks the state would save about 22-million dollars a year if many low-level felons are shifted out of the prison system and handled by probation instead.
Chief Justice Tom Kilbride said, "We're striving to make sure we're not under-utilizing what really is an overworked staff and that's the probation folks, but if they're properly funded and staffed, I think they could do a lot more bang for the buck with funding of probation.”
Tonight on the 23 News Update at 10, we'll more closely examine how funding shortages have affected Winnebago County and why some feel those jobs are critical to the justice system.