Cook County's Adult Probation Department (CCAPD) is getting considerable blame for the notoriously high prevalence of gun violence in Chicago, including the January 2013 shooting death of a high school band member who performed at President Barack Obama's second inauguration ceremony.
A recent investigation by the Chicago Tribune concluded that CCAPD is a "dysfunctional department" that has "lost track of hundreds of convicts and overlooked curfew violations and new crimes by offenders, some of whom went on to rape or kill under the court's watch."
One such case involved Michael Ward, a purported Gangster Disciple who is accused of killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton on Chicago's South Side nine days after she and her high school band performed in Washington, D.C.
According to the Tribune, Ward, 19, was serving two years of probation for a January 2012 gun-possession conviction at the time of the shooting. He also had reportedly been arrested eight times as a juvenile, including for alleged crimes that were violent.
Yet, Ward was placed on standard probation requiring him to check in with a probation officer just once a month. CCAPD has since said it wrongly assessed Ward as a low risk to commit new crimes.
In the following year after his conviction, Ward had at least four violations, according to CCAPD and police records, including a curfew violation and two arrests for allegedly riding in a stolen vehicle.
On November 26, 2012, Ward was arrested again when he showed up at Hyde Park Academy High School, allegedly met with fellow Gangster Disciples, and then refused to leave school grounds when asked to do so by a school administrator. Prosecutors claim that Ward was at the school to, in part, discuss avenging the shooting of a fellow gang member, Kenneth Williams, by a rival gang.
After Williams' recovery, he and Ward drove past Harsh Park on January 29, 2013, and purportedly mistook Pendleton and a group of her friends for gang rivals. Prosecutors say Ward jumped out of the car and fired his gun six times, wounding two of Pendleton's friends and fatally shooting her in the back.
When asked by the Tribune if Pendleton would still be alive if probation officers had paid closer attention to Ward, CCAPD's acting chief probation officer Jesus "Jesse" Reyes said he could not speculate.
"It's the old, hindsight is 20/20," Reyes said. "You're asking a question that nobody can answer."
Ward was just one of about 24,000 probationers under the watch of the Circuit Court of CCAPD, which employs 550 people with a $37 million budget. CCAPD staff has decreased by about 26% since 2005, Reyes said, because of layoffs and retirement.
According to the department's supervisor, Chief Judge Timothy Evans, CCAPD is understaffed and underfunded.
"The sad result," he said, "is that public safety suffers."
But the Tribune reported that CCAPD also conducts "sloppy and incomplete case work," including failing to violate probationers on new arrests and losing track "of hundreds of convicts."
As of November 5, 2013, according to internal CCAPD data, 1,361 probationers were on the department's "60 day" list, which identifies all those on probation who have failed to report for at least two months.
Sources: Chicago Tribune, www.correctionsone.com
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