Tom Latham

Tom Latham was surprised the state of Illinois came through with the money to double the funding for the Kankakee County probation department.

When Bourbonnais hosted the Friendship Festival over the summer Kankakee County probation officers made their presence known. Workers in the revived field unit monitored the crowd for sex offenders and paid about 28,000 visits to convicts last year.

Previously, officers spent the bulk of their time taking appointments with offenders in the probation office. What changed?

"I don't believe I'm saying this — the state of Illinois came through for us," said Tom Latham, Iroquois and Kankakee County court services director.

The Illinois legislature bumped the probation department's funding from $470,000 to $1 million in 2015. The department's budget for Kankakee County is about $2 million. In addition, the state paid most of it on time and continues to do so today despite the eight-month budget impasse between the legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

That is highly unusual. The state is $3.9 billion behind paying its bills. Kankakee County Board Chairman Mike Bossert said the Illinois Supreme Court backed the major increase and continues to advocate for the funding. The county board finalized the budget numbers on Tuesday in actual dollars, meaning it was money that actually had arrived here.

The increase allowed the department to rehire seven of the 10 probation officers it has lost to budget cuts since 2010, giving it the manpower to revive the field unit. So, in addition to keeping office appointments rolling, there are officers who spend the bulk of their time in the community.

"It's one thing to have the client come in and report to you," Latham said. "When you're out in the field you're confirming what's going on, like where they live and work. You're learning things about their environment."

The revival of the field unit has allowed the department to assign two full-time probation officers to monitor sex offenders in the community, one for felons considered at high risk and two to monitor juveniles in home detention. Latham said those juveniles are being spared from incarceration.

When the field unit returned to the streets, there was a surge in the number of probation violations the department found, although Latham could not provide exact numbers.

"If you're not looking, you're not going to find anything," Latham said.

The news isn't completely positive, though. The department also receives $553,000 in grant funding. A federal grant increased this year, but two state grants remain on hold because of Springfield's budget stalemate.

The federal grant is aimed at bolstering the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults and increased from $45,000 to $60,000 this year. The increase spared the department one officer it would have had to cut without it, Latham said. Additionally, it provided $18,000 for a new forensic extraction device officers can use to find explicit materials sex offenders sometimes keep on their cellular telephones.

"We could see them deleting stuff from their phones before they would come in to see us," Latham said.

The other two grants totaling about $475,000 remain in limbo because of Springfield's budget impasse. One would fund two new probation officers and the other would provide social services for juvenile offenders.

Even the federal grant and state funding advocated for by the Illinois Supreme Court has to be renewed annually.

"It's allowed the probation department to maintain personnel and provide services," Bossert said. "But we're constantly worried about what shoe will drop next in terms of funding."