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Fewer delays in justice good for the bottom line

New state’s attorneys in Whiteside and Lee counties have quickened their offices’ resolution of cases. The result? Less tax money spent to keep inmates behind bars. Both justice and taxpayers are served well by the improved efficiency.

Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

The wheels of justice usually turn slowly, and for good reason. Nobody wants to see a rush to judgment that tramples defendants’ rights and makes a mockery of the criminal justice system.

But we’re all in favor of those ponderous wheels of justice being sped up a little bit if it can be done without infringing upon individual rights.

Under the leadership of Whiteside County State’s Attorney Trish Joyce, who took office about 5 months ago, pending criminal cases have been resolved in a more timely fashion.

The proof is in the declining number of inmates behind bars at the Whiteside County Jail.

Last year, during State’s Attorney Gary Spencer’s final year in office, the jail averaged 118 inmates a day.

So far this year, the number has been about 40 lower.

Joyce’s office has taken on the backlog of stagnant cases that she inherited from Spencer, whose office had to focus last autumn on prosecuting Nicholas Sheley during his first Whiteside County murder trial.

According to Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi, Joyce is “aggressive with getting cases resolved.”

And that aggressiveness means more money in the sheriff’s budget.

Because Wilhelmi has fewer inmates to feed and care for, he has saved significant tax dollars – so much so that he has proposed to the County Board’s Executive Committee that the savings be used to hire an additional road deputy.

With 13 deputies on the road instead of 12, the sheriff’s department should be more proactive in responding to the law enforcement needs of the county.

Lee County also saw a new state’s attorney, Anna Sacco-Miller, take office Dec. 1. A similar, if less dramatic, improvement in case resolution has resulted.

Much of last year, the Lee County Jail’s daily population was in the upper 40s. Last month, the average was 39.

Lee County Sheriff John Varga said cases have been moving a “little bit quicker.”

Varga pointed out that as the weather warms, criminal activity often increases. Local jails once again could swell with lawbreakers.

But with a new prosecution mindset in both counties, new cases may not take as long to resolve as in the past, which should reflect well on the jails’ bottom lines.

We are encouraged that Joyce and Sacco-Miller have stepped up the pace in resolving criminal cases. It’s good for justice, and it’s good for the taxpayers.

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