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2 legislators plan to co-sponsor bill to abolish county boot camp

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart | Sun-Times MediLibrary

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart | Sun-Times Media Library

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Updated: February 25, 2014 6:34AM

Two legislators are seeking to shut down Cook County’s boot camp, pointing to a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that showed hundreds of violent felons were improperly sentenced to the program.

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, said Thursday that he and Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, will co-sponsor a bill to abolish the boot camp, formally called the Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center. Those currently in the program would be allowed to complete it.

“I don’t think it can be fixed,” said Reboletti, a former prosecutor.

A state law that created the county’s boot camp in 1996 barred violent offenders from the program, an alternative to prison that focuses on rehabilitation. But armed robbers and other violent criminals were regularly being sent to boot camp until recently.

“Why would a defendant in a different county be sentenced to prison while the same violent offender in Cook County is sentenced to boot camp? The residents in other parts of Illinois are being treated differently,” Reboletti said.

As a result of the Sun-Times’ investigation, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart wrote a letter to judges asking them to confirm that 56 inmates recently sentenced to boot camp — and awaiting placement in the program — were sentenced properly.

Since then, judges have confirmed 26 inmates to be eligible for boot camp and revoked the boot-camp sentences of four inmates, at least one of whom has been resentenced to prison. The rest of the cases were still pending review last week.

“Certainly, the sheriff has been very clear about the concerns he has, which is why he went to extraordinary lengths to strengthen the program and ensure the qualifications of those being sentenced,” said Cara Smith, executive director of the Cook County Department of Corrections.

Smith pointed out that the state is supposed to reimburse the sheriff’s office $1.5 million a year to divert inmates from state prison — and currently owes $7 million in unpaid reimbursements.

“Do they want to build a new prison?” she asked.

Reboletti said he would consider bolstering other types of diversion programs.

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