Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Death penalty ban saves money and cuts jobs

By Jamey Dunn

The elimination of the death penalty
and the clearing of death row in Illinois has already resulted in savings reflected in the budget requests of some state agencies.

State Appellate Defender Michael Pelletier said today that Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature on the abolition bill and commutation of the sentences of 15 inmates sentenced to death “essential eliminated the need” for areas of his agency that dealt with capital cases. He said his office would no longer need parts of its Supreme Court Unit, which handled death penalty appeals to the high court. The agency also plans to eliminate the Capital Post Conviction Unit, which assisted those sentenced to death with the appeals process, and the Capital Trial Assistance Unit, which helped the defense in cases where the prosecution was seeking the death penalty.

Pelletier said the elimination of death penalty cases would result in a savings of about $4.7 million from his office. The agency is requesting $21 million instead of its initial request of about $26.6 million. The office is asking for money to go toward a juvenile resource center that has not been funded in recent years and a student program that would allow interested young people to be exposed to the work of public defenders that has not been funded for the past four years. Pelletier said the appellate defender’s office would still need some money to assist on appeals for former death row inmates. “Ethically [those defense attorneys] have an obligation to continue to represent those clients at the [post-conviction level] … and eventually, the appeals.” However he said the agency is starting the process of “winding down and closing [those] offices.”

The office closings and budget reduction would also mean layoffs. Pelletier said that 37 employees would “not be with the agency next fiscal year.” However, he added that new dollars for a Juvenile Resource Center would mean the creation of four new positions.

Patrick Delfino, director of the Illinois state’s attorneys appellate prosecutor's office, said the elimination of capital cases will mean a reduction of about 23 percent in costs to his office that are covered by the general revenue fund. The office received slightly more than $9 million in general revenue for the current fiscal year.


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