Law enforcement urge end to Illinois budget standoff

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Prosecutors and law enforcement officials criticized Illinois lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday for failing to pass a state budget, saying their nine-month standoff is hurting public safety.

State county attorneys, sheriffs, and police chiefs focused their comments on youth crime-diversion programs that are serving fewer teens because they haven't gotten state funding since July 1, when the current year budget should have taken effect. Law enforcement officials argued that lack of funding for those programs will hurt the state in the long term.

More than half of the state's counties that participate in Redeploy Illinois, which provides counseling to teens at risk of incarceration, have left the program, impacting almost 300 youths who would have been served, according to a survey by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. The survey also found that about 1,800 youths no longer have access to after-school programs and that community-based centers that help runaways have cut staff.

"There is no doubt that the failure to provide these services is a tremendous burden on our courtrooms, on our police, and ultimately on society," said Tyler Edmonds, the state's attorney for Union County.

His comments came just before Rauner discussed parts of his plan to overhaul the state's criminal justice system, designed to reduce the state's prison population by 25 percent by 2025. The governor's plan has bipartisan support, even as Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature have been unable to reach a deal on the state budget.

Rauner promoted three pieces of legislation he says will help improve public safety while reducing incarceration rates and helping offenders return to society. One bill would direct prosecutors to explain why someone without a prior criminal record needs to be incarcerated and require a pre-sentencing report in such instances. Another measure would increase the use of electronic monitoring as an alternative to prison. The third proposal requires prison officials and the secretary of state to provide identification cards to offenders upon their release to help with their transition back to society.

"Today is an important and very positive step forward to benefit the people of Illinois," Rauner said. The proposals came out of a panel he formed to recommend changes to how the state deals with offenders.

One member of the panel, St. Clair County State Attorney Brendan Kelly, commended Rauner's goal during the news conference with other law enforcement officials, but said it's undermined by the budget crisis.

"Criminal justice reform, it's not just the right thing to do, it's a smart thing to do and we all understand that," he said. "It reduces crime. But we need to move forward — we need to move forward with that criminal justice reform and this budget impasse. We're not moving forward; we're moving the exact opposite direction."

Rauner said it's "a tragedy" that the state still lacks a budget but added that the criminal justice system "has been broken in Illinois for decades." He said the failure to pass balanced budgets and polices that grow the economy are partly to blame.

"Because we haven't had balanced budgets, businesses leave, we lose jobs, people become unemployed, crime goes up, human service needs go up because we're not growing our economy," he said.

Rauner has repeatedly said he wants to make the state more business-friendly, in part by passing legislation to curb the power of unions and reduce business costs. His suggestions have not been well-received by Democrats.