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Anti-violence program rife with problems

GOP calls for investigation

State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon
State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon

SPRINGFIELD (AP) – A Chicago violence prevention program ordered by Gov. Pat Quinn was so hastily organized and sloppily executed that state auditors questioned 40 percent of the expenditures claimed by service providers, a report released Tuesday said, prompting Republican lawmakers to call for a criminal investigation.

The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which was announced by Quinn in October 2010 in the closing weeks of a tight election campaign, spent $55 million in the first 2 years, which were examined by Auditor General William Holland.

The program aimed to reduce violence in two dozen Chicago neighborhoods through jobs for young people, parenting skills, school counseling, and help for people getting out of prison.

But the now-defunct Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, which created the project at Quinn’s behest, couldn’t produce the criteria it used to choose the targeted communities, and failed to include seven neighborhoods that Chicago police consider to be the most crime-ridden, the audit found.

And it relied on Chicago aldermen – not an open bidding process – to find community organizations to run the programs.

The audit “found pervasive deficiencies in IVPA’s planning, implementation, and management of the NRI program,” Holland wrote in the report. “The NRI program was hastily implemented, which limited the time IVPA had to adequately plan for and implement the program.”

A new agency has taken over the program and “these issues have since been resolved,” Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman said.

Two organizations hired by the program to carry out its services closed, and the Violence Prevention Authority was unable to account for their spending of $673,674, according to the audit. Because of sloppy or missing paperwork, auditors questioned a total of $1.8 million out of $4.4 million, or 40 percent of the money given to community organizations.

There’s also no documentation to show the administration tried to recoup $2 million in unspent money from the program’s second year.

“This is the kind of information that indictments are made of,” said Sen. Tim Bivins, a Dixon Republican and former county sheriff.

He was among 11 GOP House and Senate members at a Tuesday afternoon news conference who said they’d ask the state executive inspector general to investigate. They also suggested federal prosecutors might be interested.

Quinn decided on the program in August 2010 after Chicago ministers asked him to declare a “state of emergency” on city violence. He announced it in October, leading critics to argue it was a program to solidify the city’s vote a month before he won election by a razor-thin margin.

The Illinois Violence Prevention Authority was folded into the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority in January 2013. Spokeswoman Cristin Monti Evans said Tuesday the revamped Community Violence Prevention Program has had a budget of $17.5 million the past two years with emphasis on traditional summer jobs for participants aged 16 to 24 and “a much more rigorous grant administration process.”

“ICJIA is committed, in partnership with the governor, to providing effective work-program and educational opportunities for our youth to help prevent violence in communities across Illinois,” Evans said. “We’ve taken major steps to ensure responsible management of this critical violence prevention program.”

Lawmakers requested the audit in May 2012 after questioning program spending and effectiveness.

The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative contracted with the University of Illinois at Chicago to provide an evaluation, but the school was not required to follow a timeline for completing the work, submit anything or “assess whether NRI had been effective in reducing violence,” Holland said.

The audit found that agencies’ spending plans were approved after work started, the agencies spent money for unapproved purposes and their progress reports were late and inaccurate.

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