Questions still need asked on juvenile detention programs

By John Guevara 
Contributor 

The Winnebago County Board has decided enough is enough, at least with regard to more personnel at the Juvenile Detention Center.

In a joint meeting of the Public Safety and Finance Committees Last Thursday night, only two board members supported the move to hire two additional Juvenile Detention Center officers.

County Board member Aaron Booker, R-1, supports the move for three reasons. First, he says: it will be funded from the extra $50,000 collected in the Detention Home Property Tax Levy which is available this fiscal year.

“Just because I vote yes this year doesn’t mean I will vote yes next year,” Booker said.

He added that Chief Judge Joe McGraw and staff argue that there is considerably more liability exposure for transporting unshackled juveniles as required by the new Illinois Supreme Court Rule 941.

And finally, Booker said sheriff’s deputies currently are utilized to help transport juveniles from the juvenile detention center to court and they could make better use of that time.

Minority Caucus Leader Joe Hoffman, D-10, voted no. Hoffman spent 36 years working in juvenile detention, the last 12 as superintendent.

Hoffman took issue with the idea that the two full time positions would allow two deputies to spend their time fighting crime.

“The numbers don’t add up for me. We may need more staff but I don’t know that we need full time staff, or that many full-time staff.”

He said that deputies have been occasionally transporting juveniles to and from court since he started at the detention center in 1972. It wasn’t their full-time job and it isn’t their full-time job now.

It seems that the positions have already been filled even though the board has not, and likely will not, approve the funding. If the full county board votes down the funding request, Hoffman thinks the court will order the county to fund the positions. A source in the 17th Circuit says if the funding request is denied “the Court would have to take appropriate action.”

The Circuit Court wrote a memo to Winnebago County explaining that they preferred hiring full time staff to utilizing more part time staff, or maintaining the status quo. The memo did not address why privatizing transport is not an option; it only said the Court system is responsible for transporting juveniles to court.

Some have asked that if liability is an issue for the county, wouldn’t privatizing the service would reduce the risk?

Private transport saves money on health benefits and pension contributions for full time employees. Private transport saves money for the county on pension contributions and overtime if the court chose to use a mix of additional part time and current full time employees. It also saves on workmen’s compensation contributions and eliminates claims against the county. Shouldn’t every question be answered before choosing which direction to take?

Winnebago County is running a deficit. Knowing there was a surplus in one property tax fund should make people wonder how many other funds ran a surplus. If so, what are the departments doing with that money? What are they doing to improve efficiency and eliminate waste?

For example, in the same meeting, Operations Committee Chairman Gary Jury asked the Chief Deputy of the Winnebago County Circuit Clerk’s office, Tom Lawson, how many circuit court judges had gone paperless since the court case management system was implemented almost a decade ago. Mr. Lawson says six of the 19 judges hearing cases in Winnebago County are currently completely paperless.

Most of the time government moves at the speed of molasses spilling uphill. Deficits only change the direction. It is we the people’s responsibility to ensure legislators and elected administrators are serving our interests. Call your board member and tell them what you think. Find their information at wincoil.us/departments/county-board-office/county-board-members/.

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