Jail alternative funding increase not dead

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County board member plans to reintroduce $1M increase in funds for alternative programs during vote on annual budget

By Jeff Havens

Staff Writer

Winnebago County Board member Jim Hughes (D-11) plans to give fellow board members another opportunity to increase funding for jail alternative programs. Hughes’ proposal to increase money for programs from $1,087,550 to $2,087,550, was narrowly defeated July 8 in a 13 – 11 vote with three members absent.

Hughes said July 12 he planned to reintroduce the proposal during the upcoming vote concerning the county’s annual budget. Hughes said to adequately address the problems of many of the county’s inmates, such as substance abuse and mental illness, funding must be increased.

All Democrats and two Republicans voted for Hughes’ amendment. The two cross-over votes were from Mary Ann Aiello (R-9) and John Terranova (R-4). Republicans Randy Olson (R-1), Pete MacKay (R-5), and Rick Pollack (R-13) were absent for the vote, and may be key to passing Hughes’ proposal.

The board passed a resolution for programs that allowed $1,087,550 to be taken from the jail tax that went into effect last July. The jail tax increased the local sales tax from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent, and has collected $18.85 million through March. The money may be spent on any “public safety” issue, including alternatives to incarceration.

The $1,087,550 will go to community-based programs for job skills training, mental health, faith-based self improvement, substance abuse, anger management, employment assistance, basic education, and homeless assistance. Another $1 million is slated for programs in the jail.

Only about 9 percent of the jail tax money is expected to be spent on alternative programs. The remaining 91 percent will go toward constructing and operating the jail, more criminal justice staff, and paying the interest and principal on the jail construction bonds (see chart on page A8).

Before Hughes’ funding increase amendment could be debated, Republican leader Tim Simms (R-14) motioned to dismiss Hughes’ amendment. Simms’ motion narrowly passed.

Hughes later complained about Simms: “He didn’t even give us the opportunity to debate it on the floor, which kind of irritated me. Something so important to the people should have been debated, but they said, ‘Wait and let’s see how it’s working.’ However, without the money, nothing’s going to work,” Hughes said.

Simms did not return calls to his office for comment on why he didn’t want debate on the issue.

Hughes continued: “My fear is we’ll end up incarcerating people without turning around the problem. I would rather save taxpayers money by spending $3,000 per year to help treat an inmate rather than spend $38,000 [per year] to send them to prison…”

Addressing Republicans, Hughes said: “I want them to know that without more money for alternatives, I won’t be supporting more money to help balance anyone’s budgets like we did this year with the Sheriff’s office [headed by Sheriff Richard Meyers] and State’s Attorney Paul Logli.”

Meyers and Logli spearheaded the campaign to persuade voters to approve the jail tax in November 2002. Logli’s office received this fiscal year, a supplement of $209,000 in jail tax funds to add to his budget, while Meyers’ office received an additional $1.6 million.

Hughes said Logli and Meyers told county board members the request for supplementary funds was a one-time request, to which he plans to hold them accountable.

Logli’s office also received $250,000 in jail tax money to process defendants through the criminal justice system more quickly. Meyers’ office also received $1.56 million in jail tax money to reopen the 96-bed satellite jail, and $160,000 for the day reporting program.

An ongoing series of articles by The Rock River Times suggested millions of dollars could be saved by cutting the size of the jail by at least half of the proposed 1,212-bed capacity, while meeting incarceration needs well into the future (see June 23 article “Should the jail be downsized?”). The series also illuminated data-gathering deficiencies in the court system and Logli’s office that would help identify problems and bottlenecks in the criminal justice system that contributed to jail overcrowding.

Too many inmates in the county jail was the basis for a federal lawsuit in 2000 that Logli and Meyers used to argue the need to pass the jail tax. Logli warned that if the tax wasn’t approved, the federal court may place a “cap” on the number of inmates housed in the jail, which would likely result in criminals on the streets.

However, crime expert Dr. Michael Hazlett said, “Living under a cap might not be that bad.” Hazlett is a professor in the Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration department at Western Illinois University.

Hazlett said the cap may have forced the county to implement alternatives that would have eliminated the need for a larger jail. After touring the existing jail in November 2002, Hazlett recommended renovating the existing 394-bed jail rather than constructing the planned $93-$130 million, 900- to 1,212-bed jail.

By September 2005, the stay of litigation concerning the federal lawsuit calls for the average daily population to be down to 400 inmates. During the campaign for the tax, Meyers and Logli said the average daily population was between 600 to 700 inmates.

After the jail opens in 2007, Hughes hopes county inmates fill only 300 of the 1,212 beds.

George Anne Duckett (D-12) responded to the idea of downsizing the jail by saying: “It sounds great, but it will never happen. You watch, we’ll be renting out jail space until we fill it with our own.”

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