Cook County’s top prosecutor and public defender made a unified plea yesterday, lambasting budget cuts they say have stretched their offices to the limit and beyond, says the Chicago Tribune. State’s Attorney Richard Devine and Public Defender Edwin Burnette echoed many findings of a new two-year study that said huge numbers of nonviolent drug offenders and mentally ill defendants have overwhelmed the county’s criminal justice system. New government spending and other reforms are needed to address the problem, the report said. “We are getting to meltdown,” Devine said.
The Criminal Justice Project of the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice held the forum to discuss the report. The Appleseed Fund is a research and advocacy group that studies issues ranging from judicial elections to federal education reforms. To compile the criminal justice report, researchers conducted more than 100 interviews and watched 160 hours of court proceedings. The report argues for more staffing to reduce caseloads, improved treatment for drug offenders and more programs specifically geared toward mentally ill defendants. It recommends legislators be required to estimate the cost of any new crime legislation. It also calls for a new, independent commission to help the Cook County Board make criminal justice budgeting decisions. Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel said the courthouse will dispose of 28,000 cases this year, a caseload that would be handled by 65 judges to meet national standards. The court has 40 judges.