Shortage in attorneys impacts Winnebago County Jail population

A shortage in the number of attorneys in the public defender and state’s attorney’s is having an impact on the Winnebago County justice system. 

"My experience over the last 24 months is that I’ve lost 22 people and I’ve hired 20 more. It’s extraordinary," Public Defender Dave Doll says. 

It’s a problem Doll blames on money. The starting salary for a lawyer in the state’s attorney’s and public defender’s offices is just over $40,000. That’s compared to $55,000 for the same job in McHenry County.  

"They can be paid more in other state’s attorney’s offices or in the private sector," Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Joe Bruscato says.  

The struggle to find qualified lawyers is having an impact on the jail. More than 900 inmates are at the Winnebago County jail right now. Last year, that number was roughly 700 when the jail was at it’s lowest capacity. 

"Most of the people in custody are people who are charged with an offense and are waiting to be tried and convicted," the 17th Judicial Court Chief Judge Eugene Doherty says.  

Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Joe Bruscato says a majority of those inmates face more severe charges and require an attorney with more experience. 

"When you have less experience, you less ability for assistant state’s attorney or assistant public defender to handle the more serious cases and consequently that has the potential to be pushing the jail population up," Bruscato says.  

The public safety leaders revealed these issues to the county board. However, they say they’re not here to ask for more money. 

"The resource issue, that’s going to be in the hands of the board to decide how they’re going to address it," Doherty says. "On the court side, we’re going to do what we can with the resources we can to process those cases." 

The county administrator says it is looking at raising the starting salary for the public defender and state’s attorney’s offices. But, she says it could take a few years to make that happen.

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