(Chicago) – In the face of massive budget cuts that eliminate state funding for drug treatment, criminal courts across Illinois face backlogs and chaos if treatment is not available as a sentencing option for nonviolent offenders.
The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, the LaSalle News Tribune, and Chicago Public Radio are among those in the past few days who have reported on how the budget cuts create problems for courts, jails, and prisons.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett held a press conference in Wheaton on Monday to protest the proposed state budget. “If these cuts were to take place, it would be damaging to Illinois’ criminal justice system,” he said. “Cutting funding to vital organizations such as TASC that provide crucial services for drug related offenses would end up costing the state significantly more money in the long run.” (See article in Fox Valley Villages Sun.)
Cuts Force Suspension of TASC Court Services
Pursuant to Illinois statute, TASC is the only program designated by the state to provide substance abuse assessments, treatment placement, and monitoring of eligible drug-addicted offenders as an alternative to incarceration. An independent, nonprofit agency, TASC places and supervises clients in state-funded treatment programs across Illinois.
TASC received notice last week from the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) that TASC’s statewide services for the Illinois courts are being de-funded by 76 percent as of July 1. Drug treatment providers across Illinois are facing equally back-breaking cuts.
The cuts to TASC and treatment are disproportionate to the already devastating 50 percent budget cuts faced by related human services. (See June 19 editorial by the Peoria Journal Star.)
TASC has been forced to suspend intake and notify current clients that, unless and until the budget is resolved, they will not be receiving TASC’s services after July 1. Staff in programs affected by the budget cuts – representing more than half of the statewide agency – are being placed on unpaid furlough pending the outcome of state budget decisions in Springfield.
LaSalle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne told the LaSalle News Tribune, “TASC has done an admirable job of helping those who need to be helped. Without their services, repeat offenders will undoubtedly continue to fill our court system.”
TASC’s clients have significantly better outcomes, in terms of reduced drug use and reduced crime, than offenders who do not get TASC.
Budget Cuts Shift Costs to Counties, Add Costs to State
The FY10 state budget eliminates treatment for 65,000 people in the coming year, including 25,000 who are referred to treatment by the criminal justice system.
If each of these individuals is held in jail an extra 30 days due to the lack of treatment in the community, the cost to Illinois counties will be $74 million in the coming year (based on an average daily jail cost of $125 in Cook County and $70 outside of Cook County).
As of Friday, June 19, there were 126 people waiting in county jails across Illinois for a TASC assessment. They are waiting because the TASC budget cuts have forced the suspension of intake. Thirty-six are in Cook County ($125/day) and 90 are in other jails across Illinois (average $70/day). It is currently costing taxpayers $10,800 for every day these 126 people wait in jail.
Additionally, in FY08, approximately 5,500 adults were sentenced to TASC under ILCS 301/40, the statute that allows for supervised treatment as an alternative to incarceration for certain categories of felony offenders. Without TASC’s treatment placement and monitoring services for these individuals, they would most likely be headed to prison at an additional cost of $154 million to Illinois taxpayers.
In a state that already spends 25 times more on the consequences of addiction than on preventing and treating it, these cuts are “financially absurd,” according to TASC Executive Vice President Pam Rodriguez.
Budget Cuts Threaten Public Safety
Data released recently by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy show that Chicago leads the nation when it comes to arrestees testing positive for illicit drugs, with nearly nine out of ten having used drugs within 48 hours of their booking.
Without treatment available as a sentencing option, judges have three options: (1) send more nonviolent offenders to prison, at a cost to taxpayers eight times that of supervised treatment; (2) hold nonviolent offenders in county jails, at an average cost to county taxpayers of $2,100 – $3,750 per person per month; or (3) release addicted offenders to the community with their addictions intact, and without access to treatment or TASC supervision.
“TASC and drug treatment are fiscally responsible solutions to some of society’s most pervasive problems,” says Ms. Rodriguez. “We place into treatment and hold accountable those whose addictions cost society the most.”
Urgent Need for Budget Resolution
The impact of the cuts is already being manifested in suspended services and staff furloughs. To reverse the cuts, the General Assembly – including legislative leaders John Cullerton, Michael Madigan, Christine Radogno, and Tom Cross – will need to vote on new state revenues and also appropriate sufficient funds to drug treatment and case management.
“This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue,” emphasizes Ms. Rodriguez. “This is about fiscally sound public policy.”
Legislators will convene in Springfield on Tuesday, where they likely will be met by thousands of cut-protesting citizens. A vote on additional taxes may take place on Wednesday.