A group affiliated with Macedonia Baptist Church held a press conference Sept. 23 at which they alleged a 17th Judicial Circuit proceeding known as Rule 20 denies prisoners a preliminary hearing that results in stockpiling inmates in the county jail. Rev. Perry Bennett and Ambassador Jesus Barbary leveled their allegations because they wanted to raise awareness in the community about this rule.
Barbary said, Rule 20 guts the judicial system of its due process, which allows authorities to unduly detain people and hold them in jail. He added that in December 2000, Rule 20 was adopted, which allows inmates to be held on charges that may eventually be dismissed after new charges are filed without having a preliminary hearing to determine the validity of the old charges.
Kathryn Zenoff, chief judge for the 17th Judicial Circuit, said Rule 20 did not operate to hold prisoners any longer than allowed by criminal statutes.
She added that Rule 20 worked as a housekeeping mechanism, and does not supersede state statutes.
As a result of Rule 20, Bennett said people of color and the poor have been inordinately and negatively affected by adoption of the proceeding. He estimated that 80-85 percent of the inmates in jail are poor and people of color. However, Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers disputed that estimate, saying only about 58 percent of inmates in jail were minorities.
Barbary and Bennett said they do not plan on pursuing any legal action to change the rule.