Lawmakers Move to Protect Taxpayers from Inmate Legal Bills

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Governor Bruce Rauner announced today his support for a bill that would help ease the burden of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and taxpayers by taking into account an inmate’s ability to pay for a private attorney. As a WGN investigation noted, state taxpayers paid the attorney and investigator fees to defend convicted murderer Drew Peterson in his murder-for-hire trial.

“Taxpayers are on the hook too easily for inmate legal bills,” Governor Rauner said. “In a time when financial resources are tight across state government, there are better uses for the more than $200,000 the state is paying to defend Drew Peterson. This common-sense proposal protects taxpayers.”

A new bill, sponsored by State Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport), would require IDOC to pay for legal fees only if it’s determined the person cannot afford a private attorney and is eligible for the public defender. If the court appointed a private attorney to represent the defendant because the public defender if not able to take on the case, IDOC will only pay if the inmate is financially unable to do so.

“We need to balance an inmates right to an adequate defense with the rights of taxpayers,” Rep. Stewart (R-Freeport) said. “While using a public defender is always the department’s first option, some communities do not have the capacity to handle a large case like the Drew Peterson murder-for-hire trial. Now taxpayers are on the hook for these legal fees. This bill will make the judge take into account the inmates ability to pay if they choose to assign an outside defense attorney.”

“Illinois taxpayers are paying for Drew Peterson’s plan to have the Will County States Attorney killed,” said IDOC Assistant Director Gladyse Taylor. “Illinois law requires the Department pay the nearly $265,000 in legal fees that Peterson raked up in the case. That is in addition to the thousands of dollars in defense fees the Department pays for other offenders who commit crimes while incarcerated. This money could be better spent on programs and services that reduce recidivism and ensure offenders are more prepared to return to society when they leave our custody.”

The bill is HB 3555.