When the Illinois budget ax lopped another $1.3 million from Lake County, Il.”s underfunded court services system, it created a dilemma for local policy makers, reports the Pioneer Press, north of Chicago. The choice: Bail out the department with local tax dollars or put fewer probation officers on more criminals. The county ended up doing both, leaving open a dozen positions and covering some of the multimillion-dollar shortfall from its own pocket.
Lake County officials see that as a public safety problem. Probation officers stop crimes before they happen by watching over people most likely to commit them. Studies and practical experience have shown that those released from prison will continue breaking the law and wind up in jail at higher rates without services available through probation. “Cutting funding for probation will cause problems throughout the criminal justice system,” said State’s Attorney Michael Waller. In 2010, the money problems will only get worse. A dozen unfilled positions will push the average caseload up to 125 probationers per officer. That is nearly 50 cases higher than the number suggested in a recent survey by the American Probation & Parole Association. “So we spend less time than we did before checking on these people,” said Frank Kuzmickus, the county’s former director of Adult Probation Services. “If we can’t replace officers, at some point, we won’t be able to do the job properly. It will gradually happen where the safety of the community will be in jeopardy, more so than it is already.”