Cook County Good Government?
A local government development of historic proportions happened last week and it deserves another mention in this space. Sheriff Tom Dart announced that with the Cook County Jail's annual intake having fallen by 18.6% since 2004, he will close two of the sprawling correctional facility's buildings.
At its overcrowded worst, the jail had become the nation's largest, single site correctional facility with an average daily population of over 11000 inmates. Today, with Chicago Police making dramatically fewer felony arrests, the average count is about 8600. Shuttering two "divisions" initially will save about $15 million dollars a year and ease the pressure applied by the Federal Courts to hire more correctional officers.
The downsizing is historic because the Cook County Jail had grown steadily for the previous half century costing taxpayers untold billions. In fact, the jail and courts are second only to the county's Health and Hospital System in terms of expense. Rarely will you hear of a public safety official, let alone an elected one like Dart, who will admit that his or her fiefdom is on the shrink.
But with his announcement last week, the sheriff and his staff have challenged themselves to manage the lower headcount to create some savings for Cook County taxpayers. And credit Dart for putting good government over politics inasmuch as he for waited until a month after the primary election to deliver the good news.
How can the fact that there are fewer people being arrested for felonies and being held in the Cook County Jail translate into improved management and efficiencies elsewhere in the criminal justice system?
Will the Courts, State's Attorney's and Public Defender's Offices downsize and produce some more taxpayer savings?
So far, we haven't heard a peep.
But rest assured that when budget hearings begin later this year, County Commissioners will remember Sheriff Dart's news conference and those two empty buildings at the jail.