Budget Cuts Have Come for Police Dogs

A big chase for an escaped prisoner in Illinois over Labor Day weekend was missing one thing: the canine unit.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officers and their dogs during a canine graduation ceremony Friday, June 14, 2013 in New York's Grand Central Terminal.
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Sept. 11, 2013, 7:58 a.m.

It took more than four days for the Illinois De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions to cap­ture es­caped pris­on­er Jared Carter. The hunt in­volved more than 100 de­part­ment em­ploy­ees, as well as heli­copters, air­planes, and state po­lice per­son­nel. But there’s one thing that was left out of the search due to Illinois state budget cuts: a pris­on can­ine unit.

To help slash his state’s budget, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn nixed five dog-hand­ling jobs in the de­part­ment last year, ac­cord­ing to in­form­a­tion ob­tained by The Quad-City Times. And, without hand­lers, that meant Gov. Quinn had to lay off the dogs.

It’s not as if the search was par­tic­u­larly cheap. The Cor­rec­tions De­part­ment says the bill already tops $100,000, and it’s likely to grow. The hunt also wasn’t even com­pletely dog-free: The de­part­ment was able to get some can­ine help from the Craw­ford County Sher­iff’s Of­fice.

Budget is­sues in the Illinois pris­on sys­tem af­fect more than dogs, though. Ac­cord­ing to an Amer­ic­an Fed­er­a­tion of State, County, and Mu­ni­cip­al Em­ploy­ees uni­on spokes­man, “Crit­ic­al se­cur­ity meas­ures have been re­duced due to lack of staff” at the over­crowded Robin­son Cor­rec­tion­al Cen­ter that Carter es­caped from. On the day he made it out, one of the guard towers was not staffed.

And, again, the prob­lem is broad­er than just this one pris­on, and just this one can­ine unit. Illinois’s pris­on sys­tem cost more than $1.7 bil­lion in fisc­al 2010, ac­cord­ing to the Vera In­sti­tute of Justice. There are more than 49,000 state pris­on in­mates in a sys­tem de­signed to hold about 33,000. With so much fisc­al fo­cus on just hous­ing in­mates, there’s been barely any money left in the budget for re­hab­il­it­a­tion pro­grams. This Feb­ru­ary, over­crowding at six state pris­ons forced in­mates to have to sleep in gyms.

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