A recent Chicago Sun-Times investigation revealed that felons convicted of crimes that should have made them ineligible to participate in the Cook County Boot Camp were nevertheless improperly sentenced to boot camp. These illegal sentences allowed violent felons to avoid serving prison time. State Rep. Dennis M. Reboletti, a Republican whose legislative district is in DuPage County — not Cook County — has been quoted as saying that illegal boot camp sentences are unfixable and thus the Cook County camp should be abolished.
This attitude is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water.
The purpose of Cook County’s boot camp is to provide judges a sentencing alternative to incarceration for individuals between the ages of 18 and 35. The camp came into existence at a time when Michael Sheahan was Cook County sheriff. His successor, Tom Dart, believes in the philosophy and wholeheartedly supports the value of boot camp.
In addition to being an alternative to housing within a cage, the taxpayers of Illinois outside Cook County do not bear the cost of the county’s camp. Boot camp allows for individuals in a structured environment to learn discipline and teamwork, to enhance their education, to develop self-esteem, to learn to make better choices, to avoid previous contacts which negatively influenced them, to increase their employment opportunities and, most importantly, to become productive members of our society.
An additional benefit is that judges can monitor individuals who successfully graduate from boot camp for an additional 18 months. In many instances, boot camp graduates, as part of their sentence, must also perform community service.
The problem of illegal sentencing to boot camp is solvable. What is needed is cooperation between the judiciary, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office. We expect our judges to follow proper laws, which have been passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by the governor. We hope supervising judges encourage judges under them to follow sentencing statutes. The unfortunate consequence of an ineligible person receiving boot camp is that this individual deprives other eligible individuals from receiving the benefit of boot camp.
The Legislature has stated under what circumstances individuals can receive boot camp. It is not too difficult for assistant state’s attorneys to prepare sentencing orders which specifically establish why a person convicted is eligible to be sentenced to boot camp.
Dart’s office is committed to monitoring boot camp sentencing orders, and any individual not eligible for boot camp should be transferred back to court. Accompanying the person should be a sheriff’s statement, to be given to the judge, as to why boot camp is not proper for the individual.
The Cook County Boot Camp should be preserved. It is a tremendous alternative to incarceration and lessens the burden on taxpayers.
Daniel M. Locallo is a retired Cook County circuit court judge.