NORMAL — Funding shortfalls for Illinois courts can have negative repercussions for community-based services that help keep low-level offenders out of prison, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride said Wednesday.
In an interview with The Pantagraph ahead of the McLean County Bar Association’s Law Day luncheon, Kilbride expressed his concerns for the funding levels of state courts and discussed allowing cameras in Illinois courtrooms.
Reductions in the number of probation and court services workers in some counties can mean fewer services for defendants, he said.
“Low-risk offenders may not be getting the kind of follow-up and monitoring they need,” said the chief justice.
With 4,967 low-level, Class 4 felons in Illinois prisons at an average cost of $22,000 per year, probation costs of about $3,000 a year offers a potential savings for a cash-strapped state, noted Kilbride.
Kilbride said he supports alternative courts such as the drug and mental health courts in place in McLean County and other counties as a way of keeping people off the path to the Department of Corrections.
“I think drug and mental health courts by and large are very well thought out and fit a critical need,” he said.
Since his election as chief justice in 2010, Kilbride has introduced several initiatives aimed at improving the public’s access to Illinois courts, including a pilot program to allow cameras in courtrooms and electronic filings for Supreme and Appellate Court documents.
Kilbride said he was familiar with the concept of expanded media coverage of court cases because of the longstanding practice of allowing cameras in Iowa courtrooms directly across the river from his home county of Rock Island.
Illinois’ approach — limiting the number of cameras in the courtroom, requiring media to coordinate the logistics of sharing photos and video and giving judges control over what gets visually recorded — should give the public access while protecting defendant’s rights, according to Kilbride.
“When people see how it really works with real judges and witnesses, they have a better understanding of how courts function,” said Kilbride.
The Illinois Supreme Court was one of the first courts to add Twitter as a way of publicizing announcements and making available video and audio recordings of its arguments the same day they are heard by the court.