DuPage sheriff's officials change reason for canceling J.U.S.T. program

DuPage County Sheriff's officials have walked back a statement released last week that cited a judge's ruling as the reason for the office ending its relationship with J.U.S.T. of DuPage.

The change came late Tuesday after the Daily Herald obtained transcripts of court proceedings referenced by sheriff's officials that showed Judge George Bakalis made no such ruling against the nonprofit that provides job training, addiction treatment and religious services for county jail inmates.

“I understand the judge didn't rule on it but we had to take a look at what those standards were and that's when we found that the current program did not live up to those standards,” Undersheriff Frank Bibbiano said. “That (statement) was probably poorly worded, I guess, but everything has been looked at from that point forward.”

Still, sheriff's officials said they will not reinstate J.U.S.T. and are committed to partnering with the DuPage County Health Department on a three-tiered multidenominational approach to address substance abuse and mental health.

J.U.S.T. officials have been told their last day in the jail will be Sept. 10. J.U.S.T. stands for Justice Understanding Service Teaching.

Officials with J.U.S.T. and the DuPage County Public Defender's office condemned Tuesday's announcement.

Public defender Jeff York said the sheriff's initial explanation was disingenuous and his actions are a disservice to the community and the inmates.

“It is offensive to me that the sheriff would try to hang it on the judge's ruling as a reason for doing this,” York said. “That's clearly not what's happening and it's clearly not what happened in court.”

J.U.S.T. Executive Director Michael Beary criticized the false explanation.

“The sheriff, in his interpretation, is hanging his hat on something that didn't happen that way,” Beary said. “The judge was very specific in his ruling in this case.”

He said he also believes it's a mistake for the sheriff's office to walk away from all of the other services J.U.S.T. provides.

At issue is an Aug. 22 statement from a sheriff's department spokesman that said the office was canceling its 32-year relationship with J.U.S.T.

“It came to the office's attention that a DuPage County Judge has recently ruled that the current substance abuse recovery program, as administered by J.U.S.T., does not meet the Illinois Department of Corrections standards as set forth by Illinois State statute,” it said.

It stemmed from a court hearing involving an inmate who was sentenced to 18 years for a drug-induced homicide and was seeking a reduced sentence based, in part, on some voluntary J.U.S.T. classes he had participated in during his nearly three years in jail.

However, the seriousness of his charged offense prohibited him from entering the jail's “recovery pod,” where certified counselors work with inmates struggling with addiction.

In DuPage County, it is up to the judge to decide whether that work can be applied to good credit on a sentence.

In his decision not to extend credit to the inmate, according to the transcripts, Bakalis specifically said he was not ruling on whether recovery pod credit would or could be extended because the inmate was never in the pod.

Chief Anthony Romanelli, who oversees the jail, said the initial statement was made before anyone in the sheriff's office had seen the transcripts.

“I think the initial thing that was put out that said the decision was based on this ruling from the judge was poorly worded because it said it was the ruling of the judge. I think that what you get out of that 60-something pages is the totality of what was being discussed,” Romanelli said. “And that is that we have a problem with our recovery pod and how it is being administered to the inmates in the jail. Regardless of what that judge did not rule on, there still exists an issue that the recovery pod being run by J.U.S.T. does not comply with state statute in regards to rules and regulations for sentence credit.”

The state statute, however, states “The Department of Corrections shall prescribe rules and regulations for awarding and revoking sentence credit for persons committed to the Department which shall be subject to review by the Prisoner Review Board.” It does not mention addiction recovery programs administered in county jails.

“The IDOC does not certify county drug programs,” department spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said. “Per Illinois' Administrative Code, jails are encouraged to provide social service programs and enlist volunteers, including groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, religious volunteers, and volunteer counselors or groups offering needed services, to participate in the jail programs.”

Trial Court Administrator John Lapinski said the Judicial Code of Conduct prevents Bakalis or any other judge from commenting on the sheriff's interpretation of the court proceedings.

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