CHICAGO (CBS) — Reports that Cook County judges have been improperly sentencing violent criminals to a boot camp reserved for non-violent offenders have prompted a criminal justice expert to call for a fix of what she calls poor oversight by the court system.
WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Paula Wolff, senior executive at Metropolis Strategies, has been a longtime advocate of alternatives to prison for non-violent criminals.
She said the Cook County Circuit Court should have an official in place to monitor if judges illegally send violent convicts to such diversion programs, and she was clearly unhappy about a Sun-Times investigation that found hundreds of violations in recent years.
“What I would say to people who read the story and say ‘Oh, this is just what I expected by letting these violent people out,’ there are programs that have been successful – that identify the non-violent people and put them in alternatives,” she said.
State law permits only non-violent offenders to be sentenced to boot camp as an alternative to prison for felony convictions, but the Sun-Times found a number of judges sentencing hundreds of violent criminals to boot camp since 2006.
Wolff favors alternative sentencing programs like boot camp, but said there must be safeguards in place.
“I don’t know that we have those programs. I think that’s really what Cook County and other counties around the state have to focus on. There has to be a presiding judge in every circuit who knows what kind of people are going before the judges, what their legal charges are, what happens to them when their case is disposed of, and then track to see what happens,” she said.
At least four judges have sentenced convicted armed robbers to boot camp, and most of those defendants went on to commit other crimes afterward. One of those judges acknowledged to the Sun-Times she has given sentences that don’t follow the letter of the law, but said she won’t sentence such offenders to boot camp in the future.
Metropolis Strategies is involved in one such program called Redeploy Illinois, which provides various social services to teens considered at high risk of going to prison.
Crime and the justice system are the topics of this week’s “At Issue” program, and you can hear more Sunday at 9:30 p.m.