Challengers for the Democratic nomination for Cook County sheriff are criticizing Sheriff Thomas J. Dart's agreement to hand some electronic monitoring authority over to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Electronic monitoring for people awaiting trial or nonviolent offenders serving short sentences is seen as a way to reduce overcrowding at Cook County Jail, which the federal government has been watching for decades. However, controversy and criticism has arisen when people in that system commit further crimes.
Dart said the vast majority of people on electronic monitoring enter the system through a judge's order, and the federally authorized program Preckwinkle is working to take over is just a second chance or review for inmates initially denied electronic monitoring in court.
"Of 2,200 people on electronic monitoring, maybe 100 are under this federal court mechanism," he said. "Toni Preckwinkle came in and said 'I'll find beds for them.'"
There is a misunderstanding about Preckwinkle's authority to expand the electronic monitoring program, Dart said, adding that a federal court would have to approve any transfer of authority.
Dart's challengers in the March 18 primary -- Bill Evans and Sylvester Baker of Chicago; and Tadeus Palka of Norridge -- say they disagree with any move that would take electronic monitoring out of the sheriff's control.
"It doesn't matter whether it's 100 people or 10,000, to me it's still a portion of his responsibilities as sheriff that he's giving away to a civilian," said Evans, a lieutenant in the Cook County Sheriff's Department,
Baker, who retired from the sheriff's department and now works as assistant director of security for City Colleges of Chicago, would go farther, pushing for the sheriff's department to administer all electronic monitoring without court involvement, which he said was done historically.
"Don't misunderstand me, there will be strict criteria relating to charges and background checks and the nature of the crime," he said.
Palka, who also retired from the sheriff's department, said by email he supports the electronic monitoring program, but not as part of Preckwinkle's office.
"My administration would want to oversee the electronic monitoring due to the fact that President's office is not a law enforcement entity," Palka wrote. "Electronic monitoring violations will still need the sheriff to take action, and when you have two separate entities involved and a miscommunication happens somebody could get hurt. Now you have a pointing of fingers battle and nobody has any direct responsibility." Both Baker and Palka said Dart's well-publicized arguments with Timothy C. Evans, chief judge of Cook County circuit court of Cook County, are hindering efforts to solve overcrowding at the jail.