Will County agrees to fund prison diversion program — for now

McCabe Sterr: Illinois budget by June or ARI court shutdown

JOLIET – The Will County Finance Committee gave preliminary approval at its Tuesday meeting to lend $75,000 to the Adult Redeploy Illinois specialty court program in light of the ongoing state budget impasse. But Will County's specialty court coordinator, Julie McCabe-Sterr, warned that's just enough "to stop the bleeding" through June 30, noting the committee also directed her not to accept new participants.

“I am definitely grateful that they have agreed to fund it [through the state’s current fiscal year],” McCabe-Sterr said after the meeting. “If the state does not give me a budget by June 30, they have told me I have to shut the program down.”

Eighty-six chronic offenders are in the ARI court program right now, where they receive mental health counseling, job placement help and routine assessments, she said.

Will County was awarded a $302,615 state grant to pay for the ARI program in the current fiscal year, but the county never saw that funding. McCabe-Sterr asked the County Finance and Judicial committees on Tuesday for $278,000 to continue the program through November, but committee members declined to give her any back funding owed by the state, estimated now at $220,000.

“We did that because we don’t know if these loans are going to be repaid,” Finance Committee Chairman Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, said after the meeting.

He was the lone vote Tuesday against lending the $75,000 to ARI court.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to come through some tough times and we’re going to have to say no, and these programs are going to shut down until the state gets its act together,” Fricilone said.

He said he suggested McCabe-Sterr begin looking to outside agencies willing to donate or take over some services now provided by ARI court.

McCabe-Sterr said she presented a report Tuesday on how the county's specialty court programs result in cost savings because of less jail time, fewer trials and better recidivism rates.

Recidivism rates are not available for Will County’s ARI program because it’s fairly new, but the average rate for the county’s drug, mental health and veterans specialty courts is about 20 percent. That compares with the Illinois Department of Corrections recidivism rate of 75 percent.

"It certainly goes against what the state is saying in that they want to reduce [the prison population] by 25 percent over 10 years," McCabe-Sterr said after the meeting. "For [the state] to say that and then to not fund the very programs that allow that to happen, it's certainly short-sighted on the part of the state."

Legislation providing $8.5 million to ARI court programs statewide passed the Illinois Senate last month. Senate Bill 2059 is now sitting in the Illinois House Rules Committee. Given the rocky political climate in Springfield, the likelihood of passage may be a "long shot," and is "not a long-term solution," according to McCabe-Sterr's report.