INS Detention Center debate in Oregon

OREGON—At the Oregon Coliseum on Sept. 4, Oregon residents gathered to voice their opinions and concerns in opposition to a proposed INS detention center in their community.

The meeting was arranged by a group of local residents concerned that the local county and city officials had been working since early 2001 with Immigration and Naturalization Services to construct a 640-bed facility, but little if any information had been disseminated to the community, and some county board officials say to them as well.

During a scheduled Aug. 20 board meeting, the Ogle County Board voted 19-3 to enter into an option agreement to purchase 25 acres for the proposed detention center. Under the 90-day agreement, the county has the option to purchase the land from the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center (LOMC) for a total of $312,500. If the county requests an extension for an additional 90 days, they would pay $6,250.00 to LOMC (2 percent).

LOMC is a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which conducts programs throughout the year for adults and children on its approximately 650 acres of water, woods and prairie. Almost 10,000 participate in summer camps and outdoor education programs annually.

According to John Califf, executive director of LOMC, the new detention facility will be an economic boost to the community by creating jobs and an increase in revenue for local merchants. He also stated that money

from the sale will generate more income for LOMC than their current lease arrangement with a farmer.

The vote by the county board to enter into the agreement followed a spirited discussion concerning the lack of information being supplied. Some of the board members said there was a definite lack of information from Chairman Jerry Daws and the sheriff’s department about the project. Minutes of a Long Range Planning Committee meeting quoted Chairman Daws as stating that an agreement had been signed by him with the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Dept. of Immigration and Naturalization Services to “receive $9.1 million for the construction of the center, and the committal papers with the INS have been signed,” according to the Oregon Republican Reporter. The estimate cost of construction is $20 million.

During the two-hour open forum meeting moderated by Jim Watt, of Watt Publishing Co., one by one, residents lined up behind the microphone to ask questions and express their thoughts. Lt. Greg Beitel, Ogle Co. jail commander, fielded questions, filling in for Sheriff Mel Messer, who did not attend because he was ill.

Some suggested that the proposed detention center/prison would detract from the Midwestern small-town atmosphere, while others focused on fiscal issues.

Lisa Nordman-Ring not only questioned whether this was a legacy that the citizens wanted to leave to the generations ahead, but had more pragmatic concerns as well. She asked if the current water and sewer systems could handle the extra burden of the facility. The Illinois Dept. of Corrections formula for water usage is 80 gallons per inmate per day. She also expressed concern about the safety issues surrounding the transport of detainees in and out of the facility, and to federal court in Rockford. “Our kids and our future are more than money. If we were going to make a billion dollars on this a year, I wouldn’t want it,” said Nordman-Ring, as stated by the Oregon Republican Reporter.

Lt. Beitel said that the center would employ between 180–200 people, renting space to INS and the U.S. Marshal’s Service in addition to housing county jail prisoners. “This is not a federal facility; this would be built, owned and run by Ogle County,” noted in the Oregon Republican Reporter. The county plans to pay for the construction with low-interest loans based on the amount the INS will pay per day. Although the agreement with INS calls for 300 beds, the INS will only pay for the number they are actually using.

Tom Peters, Oregon, questioned the sheriff’s department’s ability to run the facility, stating that the sheriff’s department was already on Sept. 1 over budget to the tune of $378,824.10. Referring to the sheriff’s budget for the last five years, he pointed out that although the amount budgeted each year increased an average of 6 percent, the sheriff exceeded it each year with a total of over a million dollars of deficit spending.

Chairman Jerry Daws said the county board oversees the sheriff’s budget, and the expenses are difficult to control. “A lot of the deficit spending comes from overtime,” he said, according to the Oregon Republican Reporter. He went on to say that currently housing federal prisoners brings in between $700,000 and $800,000 per year to the county coffers. Peters asked if that was a gross figure or a net figure.

Don Conn, Oregon, asked if the current jail makes money. Lt. Beitel responded, “No, it costs more to run the jail than comes in,” as stated in the Oregon Republican Reporter.

Ed Smith, Oregon, stated that the additional jobs at the detention center did not in his mind justify having the facility. “I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction to build jobs for jobs’ sake,” he told the Oregon Republican Reporter. He went on to urge citizens to call their county board members and tell them how they feel.

Lt. Beitel stated that he had asked to give a power point presentation at the meeting but was told no. Jim Watt explained that the organizers of the event felt that it would leave less time for citizens to speak, but encouraged the sheriff and Ogle County Board to hold a public meeting for the presentation in the near future.

Jim Watt thanked Lt. Beitel and the county and city officials who did attend, and urged the county board to consider a referendum to decide if the detention center should be located in Oregon. “My first reaction, quite honestly, was that this type of facility wasn’t the right fit for our community. But after studying the county board’s proposal, and the lack of fiscal responsibility the county board chairman as well as Sheriff Messer bring to the table, I personally have grave reservations about it being anywhere in this county,” Watt said.

Community members have also questioned the facility in the light of the closing of the 1800-bed state prison in Thompson, Illinois. “Why can’t they use that?” they ask.

A second town meeting on the issue is scheduled for Oct. 2, 7 p.m. at the Oregon Coliseum, on the town square. For more information, write to Citizens to Preserve Oregon, P.O. Box 532, Oregon, IL 61061, or go to the World-Wide Web,

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