CHICAGO (CBS) — The number of suspects booked into the Cook County Jail has fallen in the last five years, but detainees on average are staying a week longer behind bars because of court delays, local law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

It’s not just defendants who are entitled by law to a speedy trial who have to wait, the county’s top prosecutor said.

“It delays justice for everyone, not just the offenders, but the victims as well,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez told reporters Tuesday after testifying at a budget hearing before Cook County commissioners. “Obviously we see sometimes cases get dragged out for years and witnesses disappear or witnesses leave, witnesses die and it hurts the case.”

The issue came up when Sheriff Tom Dart, who runs the jail, told commissioners at Tuesday’s budget hearing the number of jail admissions dropped from 75,496 in 2007 to 62,098 this year. But, he said, there hasn’t been a corresponding drop in the amount of time suspects spend behind bars awaiting disposition of their cases.

Dart said the average length of stay this year was 54 days, up from 48 in 2007.

Dart blamed “the judiciary” for the delays, and Alvarez agreed the judges “play a role” in pace of the cases.

With the jail population hovering around 9,000 a day, and the daily pricetag to house an inmate at about $143, Dart said delays cost taxpayers money.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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