Federal jail construction standards mystery

• Uncertainty remains if the requirement will add cost to the proposed jail

County officials and the proposed jail’s architect said last week they were not aware the imminent 900- to 1,500-bed, $93- to $130-million Winnebago County Jail was supposed to meet federal jail construction standards.

In addition, officials do not know if meeting the federal standards will increase the cost of the jail or why the requirement was agreed to as part of the federal jail lawsuit settlement.

Despite the unanswered questions, Winnebago County Board members unanimously passed a resolution Feb. 26 that approved the schematic design for the jail, courtrooms and law enforcement offices.

Winnebago County Board members Polly Berg (D-7) and Chris Johnson (R-4); Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers; jail Project Manager Gary Burdett; Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli; Len Witke, architect for the jail; and Ashraf Sadek, the jail’s professional engineer, all said they were unaware that the structure was to be built to “federal jail standards,” as described in the jail lawsuit settlement.

Witke said, “I’m not sure if it will increase the costs because we’re not sure what the terminology in the stipulation means.”

Upon learning about the federal construction standards, Logli responded: “It must have been the standard that was brought up by the plaintiffs and when we reviewed it, we must have agreed that it was necessary to settle the matter.”

Logli later added: “The wording of the settlement was not meant to impose any unusual requirement. …The main point is to meet local codes and [American Correctional Association] accreditation standards.”

No outside agency imposed the standard be written into the settlement, Logli said.

Winnebago County hired local lawyer Paul Cicero of Cicero and France, P.C., to mount a defense against Timothy Chatmon Jr. and Timothy Chatmon’s 2000 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit, which was filed by Rockford attorneys Tom Greenwald and John F. Heckinger Jr.

The lawsuit prompted construction of the proposed jail after voters approved a 16 percent increase in the county sales tax in November 2002 to pay for “public safety” initiatives. Logli, Meyers, Berg, Johnson and nearly every other locally elected official and prominent business leader urged voters to approve the tax increase.

The leaders sold the plan as a “one cent” or “one penny” increase for “public safety,” which was needed to alleviate jail overcrowding and reduce crime rates.

However, the sales tax actually increased from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent—a total increase of 16 percent, not 1 percent, “one cent” or “one penny.”

In addition, crime expert and Western Illinois University Professor Michael Hazlett said building a large new jail will likely exacerbate problems of jail overcrowding and high crime rates, if the problems are not tackled from numerous angles and the necessary amount of resources are not appropriated.

In addtion to meeting the federal construction standards, the jail must meet state and American Correctional Association (ACA) standards. Alan Richardson, technical assistance manager in the Jail Division at the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) in Colorado said he did not have, and could not provide, a copy of federal jail construction standards, which could be used to compare to state and ACA standards. NIC is a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ginny Hutchinson, chief of the Jail Division of NIC, did not return repeated phone calls for comment about the standards.

County’s attorney

Cicero and Ron Barch were the attorneys from Cicero’s law firm that represented the county in Chatmon’s 2000 jail overcrowding lawsuit. Cicero’s office referred all questions to Logli. Cicero’s firm was paid $100,930.80 of taxpayers’ money for their 646.7 hours of work on the jail lawsuit.

According to Logli, Cicero personally performed about 49 percent of the work defending the county. Barch performed the other half, Logli said.

Greenwald did not return phone calls for comment about who wrote the federal construction standards into the settlement. Logli said he didn’t speak with Greenwald about the standards by time of publication.

Greenwald and Heckinger Jr., Chatmons’ attorneys, received $135 per hour, compared to the $156.07 the county’s attorneys’, Cicero and Barch received.

Cicero was also the treasurer for Winnebago County Citizens for Public Safety 2002, the organization that pushed the jail tax.

In addition, Cicero and his law firm combined to contribute $1,200 to Meyers since 2001 and another $1,200 to Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn since 2001. Both Cohn and Meyers were vocal supporters of the jail referendum.

According to the state’s campaign disclosure Web site, Meyers and Cohn were the only recipients of contributions from Cicero and his law firm.

Meyers did more than verbally lobby for the jail. Meyers’ campaign fund contributed $5,000 to the effort to pass the jail tax in 2002.

The jail lawsuit settlement also reads “Defendants [Winnebago County] have denied all allegations of wrongdoing or liability in the class action and any other accusations of wrongdoing or violations of law” and that “the court has not ruled on any issue of liability.”

The settlement concludes: “Any person who does not submit an objection in the form and manner specified shall be deemed to have waived the right to make any such objection and shall be foreclosed from subsequently making any objection to the fairness, adequacy or reasonableness of the stipulation.” The “form and manner specified” indicates that all objections had to be filed “on or before Oct. 7, 2003.”

The plaintiff

One of the men behind the 2000 jail lawsuit, Timothy Chatmon, alleged in one of his eight federal lawsuits filed since 1991 (02-C-50444), that “law enforcement agents conspired to frame Petitioner [Chatmon] for a murder he did not commit, …charged [Chatmon] with instant crimes due to a conspiracy to frame him based upon a previous murder conviction which had been reversed for a new trial during post-conviction proceedings, …[and] the State’s Attorney conspired to charge Petitioner [Chatmon] on the basis of his prior involvement and suborning perjury in a previous conviction of murder that was reversed on appeal,” according to Michael Glick, assistant attorney general for the State of Illinois.

Glick wrote his statement in a March 2003 response to Chatmon’s writ of habeas corpus petition to overturn his 1996 conviction on armed violence, drug and weapon charges in Winnebago County. Chatmon’s petition was dismissed on March 28, 2003, by Federal Judge Philip Reinhard.

Logli said there was no conspiracy by him or Winnebago County law enforcement officials to frame Chatmon on the armed violence, drug and weapon charges or the murder.

Chatmon and Timothy Chatmon Jr. have combined to file nine federal lawsuits in the Northern District of U.S. District Court since 1991, including the 2000 jail lawsuit. According to court documents, Chatmon used to live at 433 S. Pierpont Ave. in Rockford. As of last year, Chatmon was on parole in Rowlett, Texas, which is northeast of Dallas.

A status hearing on the jail lawsuit is scheduled on May 31, 2004, at 1:30 p.m., in the federal courthouse in downtown Rockford.

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