Madison County’s prosecutor and public defender are seeking more money so they can hire more lawyers and move more inmates out of the crowded county jail. Sheriff John Lakin is adding his voice to the chorus.
They argue that speeding up justice means less jail crowding. Fair enough, although it seems most trial delays are the result of defendant requests that play into the defendant’s favor as witness memories fade and the desire to push them through the system improves their deals.
The law enforcement amen choir also points to a 30 percent increase in felony cases between 2012 and 2016 as reason for needing more lawyers. Project that out and we’re facing a flood of felons in a Wild West scenario, right?
The 2,644 felony filings in 2012 were the lowest in the past 16 years, making a comparison with 3,372 felonies in 2016 look worse than it is. The average over that period was 3,109, meaning 2016 was higher than average but not the highest — it was fourth highest.
So no real crisis looming, although perceived crisis and worked up constituents calling Madison County Board members can lead to bigger budgets.
Remember, the Democrats in Madison County law enforcement were crying loudest about how the nickel property tax rate cut would have criminals running in the streets. Voters ignored them, cut the rate in November and county leaders are now working out a budget that lives within that limit.
Look at the proposed budget for 2010 compared to 2017 and all three offices have fared better than the rest of Madison County’s government units. The overall county budget increased nearly 10 percent, but the sheriff is up nearly 23 percent, the state’s attorney nearly 12 percent and the public defender 16.5 percent.
Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler said the budget is still being worked out. It includes money to shift some prosecutors from part-time to full-time, two more public defenders and a probation officer to monitor freed defendants awaiting trial.
Beyond that, maybe the officeholders should look at their administrative cost increases. The jail has $600K and the prosecutor nearly $500K more than they did in 2010 going towards administration. Maybe they can find a few new jailers or lawyers hiding within those funds.
This editorial notes $600,000 in administrative budget increases for the Madison County Jail from 2010 to 2017 and suggests there could be money found for new jailers within that amount. Sheriff John Lakin said the money includes salaries for all jail personnel, not just administrators. It represents salary increases averaging 2.4 percent a year. He said it should not be interpreted as money spent solely on administrators.