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Pritzker appoints first-ever Prisoner Review Board director; Chicago advances migrant funding

A man and a woman stand behind a podium with microphones, in a room with a blue curtain and the flag of the Chicago City Council, the man speaking and the woman listening with a serious look.
Dilpreet Raju
Capitol News Illinois
Gov. JB Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are pictured at an event in Chicago on Monday, April 15. The pair highlighted a plan to eliminate medical debt for many Illinoisans.

Weeks after two high-profile resignations at the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday appointed the first-ever executive director to help lead the beleaguered agency.

To fill the newly created position, the governor tapped Jim Montgomery, who most recently served as director of administrative services with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department in Massachusetts. His prior experience includes several stints as an assistant to Illinois lawmakers in the 1990s, and eight years as mayor of Taylorville from 1997 until 2005.

Montgomery will be responsible for overseeing administrative board operations, including bolstering domestic violence prevention training and “other important equity-based trainings for board members,” according to the governor’s office. In a news release, the governor said the creation of the director position “reduces the workload placed on the PRB chair and allows for the chair to focus more closely on leading casework.”

The board has ultimate say on Montgomery’s salary, but the governor’s office said funds are available in the current-year budget and Montgomery will earn $160,000 annually – more than the board chair’s roughly $108,000 statutory salary.

The board currently has no chair, as the office’s previous holder, Donald Shelton, resigned on March 25 along with board member LeAnn Miller.

In February, Miller led a hearing to determine whether an inmate, Crosetti Brand, should be released from Stateville Correctional Center amid allegations that he’d violated an order of protection against his ex-girlfriend, Laterria Smith, by threatening her. The board found insufficient evidence and he was released on March 12.

One day later, Brand attacked Smith, stabbing her and killing her eleven-year-old son Jayden Perkins when he tried to intervene.

Read more: Prisoner Review Board chair, member resign in wake of boy’s fatal stabbing by released inmate

Pritzker appointed Miller to the Prisoner Review Board in September 2021and her term wasn’t due to expire until January 2027. The governor said earlier this month the resignation “was probably a proper decision on her part” and said the panel she led “didn't take into consideration enough the domestic violence history of this particular prisoner.”

Read more: Amid controversy at Prisoner Review Board, Pritzker calls for more training as GOP again seeks reform

Shelton had served on the board since 2012 and was appointed as a Republican. Pritzker said Shelton “served admirably” but didn’t provide a reason for his resignation. Shelton told WTTW-TV in Chicagohe resigned out of personal responsibility, but he also defended Miller and pushed back against the governor’s statements about the decision.

The PRB has a proposed head count of 59 employees in the upcoming fiscal year, up from 51 in the current year. Its proposed budget is $5.4 million. Montgomery’s appointment awaits Senate confirmation.

Migrant response funding

The Chicago’s City Council’s budget committee advanced Mayor Brandon Johnson’s request for $70 million from city reserves to care for new migrant arrivals in a 20-8 vote on Monday.

The motion could go to a full city council vote as soon as this week, and it has the potential to close a gap in migrant aid funding and fulfill the city’s commitment to an agreement with the state and Cook County.

The proposal comes two months after Cook County officials and the governor’s office committed about $250 million toward aid for recently arrived migrants. The leaders at the time said another $70 million was still needed.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, announced the state would receive about $19.3 million in migrant response funding from a new $300 million federal spending plan.

Council members who voted for and against the city’s motion called the nearly $20 million in federal aid “wholly inadequate.”

Alderman Daniel La Spata, of Chicago’s 1 st Ward, pointed to how federal officials were quick to start programs for Ukrainian and Afghan asylum seekers but not to the same degree for those arriving to the U.S. from Latin American countries.

“We've seen still harsh contrast to how we treated the 30,000 plus Ukrainians who arrived similarly with asylum seeker status, who were able to incorporate themselves into Chicago and Illinois,” La Spata said.

Read more: Pritzker commits another $182 million to migrant response, details to come next week

Medical debt relief

Earlier in the day, Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle continued to push their plans to eliminate almost $1 billion of medical debt owned by Illinoisians with $10 million from the governor’s proposed budget.

Preckwinkle previously utilized federal funds from the pandemic-era American Rescue Plan Act to fund the Cook County Medical Debt Relief Initiative in 2022, on which the state plan is modeled.

The governor highlighted the problem of medical debt as “a uniquely American issue.”

“In Illinois, 14 percent of our population has medical debt in default,” Pritzker said. “So far, Cook County has abolished more than $348 million in medical debt for over 200,000 Cook County residents.”

The $348 million of debt relief came on an investment of about $3.75 million dollars in ARPA money due to a partnership with the nonprofit Undue Medical Debt, formerly known as RIP Medical Debt, countyrecords show.

Undue Medical Debt buys up medical debt and frees patients from the burden of years-old medical bills they cannot afford to pay. Since it buys debt from entities such as collection agencies for cents on the dollar, it can turn $1 donated into about $100 in debt relief.

Those selected to have their medical debt wiped are determined by the nonprofit’s analysis of hospital debt records.

Capitol News Illinoisis a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Dilpreet Raju is a reporter at Capitol News Illinois.
Jerry Nowicki is bureau chief of Capitol News Illinois and has been with the organization since its inception in 2019.