Jail alternatives unused

Judge and crime expert agree county needs more options

• Crime expert willing to make presentation to county board

Dr. Michael Hazlett, criminologist and professor of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration at Western Illinois University, and Gerald Grubb, chief circuit judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit, independently agreed the county needs more and better options to alleviate the county’s jail overcrowding problem.

However, alternatives to jail, such as electronic monitoring, are not being used. Also, increasing the use of personal recognizance bonds and individual bonds (I-bonds), could significantly reduce or eliminate jail overcrowding.

Hazlett, a former Texas jail inspector who toured the Winnebago County Jail last November, said the county doesn’t need a new jail if alternatives were earnestly implemented.

Grubb supports constructing a 988-bed, $97 million jail and implementing alternatives.

Hazlett said he is willing to make a presentation to the full county board about implementing jail alternatives before building a new jail.

Grubb said the Circuit Court needs more sentencing and bail options and three more judges.

After touring the jail last year, Hazlett said the current jail, which has a 394-bed capacity, needs renovations, but new construction wasn’t warranted. Hazlett reiterated his points during an interview last week.

Hazlett said the county should address pre-trial and post-trial issues before building a new jail. After such initiatives are implemented, a better estimate of the number of beds could be made.

Hazlett said the county has an inadequate system for suspects to bond out of jail before they are incarcerated. As a result, many inmates are jailed because they can’t afford bail. “You have a lot of people in jail on low bonds,” Hazlett said.

After touring the jail and reviewing an Oct. 28, 2002, list of charges against inmates and their bonds Hazlett said in retrospect, “I couldn’t believe these people were in jail.”

Hazlett added the county has not implemented the use of personal recognizance bond to its potential, which would allow eligible suspects to avoid jail and alleviate overcrowding.

A personal recognizance bond or I-bond is basically a suspect’s promise to appear in court on a specific date without having to deposit money, Hazlett said. “Generally, I-bonds [personal recognizance bonds] work pretty well,” Hazlett said.

Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers said by law, he is limited in his office’s use of personal recognizance bonds. Hazlett said use of personal recognizance bonds is a system that must be agreed upon between the county and the circuit court.

When asked if the county was using a personal recognizance bond system to its potential, Grubb said, “I’m not aware if it’s being used to its fullest potential.”

Grubb was also asked what percentage of the county’s average daily jail population could be released on personal recognizance bonds. Grubb responded: “I’m not sure. However, a large number of suspects could be released on recognizance bonds, but people don’t show up [in court].”

Grubb was informed that Hazlett’s findings contradict Grubb’s assertion that suspects don’t show up for court dates. Grubb responded by saying, “I can’t agree or disagree with his findings.”

Grubb continued, “In terms of what we’re doing, we need a system set up that requires staffing, and that requires funds.”

Hazlett said: “The one thing that struck me was the problem you have with booking [suspects]. It’s a pretty inefficient system that stuck out like a sore thumb.” Hazlett described the booking system as “pretty archaic” and suggested the county set up a system similar to Lake County or DuPage County.

Meyers acknowledged Hazlett’s assessment of the county’s booking system was correct. The county’s inefficient booking system is one reason why construction of a new jail and revamping the criminal justice system is needed, Meyers said.

Grubb said the judiciary is willing to examine Lake and DuPage counties’ booking systems.

According to Meyers, the county has always used personal recognizance bonds, but its use has been limited by staffing and funding in pre-trial services. The 1 percent increase in the county sales tax from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent will reportedly fund increased pre-trial services, Meyers said. The new tax was implemented July 1 of this year.

According to Meyers, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli is responsible for assembling a team that determines which suspects are eligible for release on personal recognizance.

“A lot of people could be let out if they had proper oversight,” Meyers said. However, Meyers couldn’t estimate the approximate numbers of suspects who would be eligible for personal recognizance bonds, if the system was used to its potential.

Concerning Hazlett’s suggestion to model the county’s booking system after DuPage County or Lake County, Meyers said “That’s a good idea that we supports and we’re looking into it.”

With regard to electronic monitoring, Grubb said, “We have to be careful about who we place on it, but it would be considered.” Hazlett said in the past 10 years, electronic monitoring technology has improved and equipment has decreased in size.

The last time the county used electronic monitoring was in the mid-1990s. Chris Johnson, Public Safety Committee member, said the county discontinued its use after an inmate on electronic monitoring was arrested for assault.

At about the same time electronic monitoring was discontinued, Winnebago County officials started their efforts to add beds to the current jail. Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli said in the Aug. 6, 1993, Rockford Register Star: “It is not going to be easy to convince voters. …But they will have a clear choice in November: Do you want the bad people in jail? Or do you want the bad people in your neighborhood?” The referendum to build an addition to the current jail failed in November 1993, but it was successful last November.

Johnson said the county’s discontinuance of electronic monitoring and timing of advocation for more jail beds are not related.

Grubb suggested the county implement electronic monitoring, day reporting, a court date notification system for suspects called the “Milwaukee Plan,” and expanding the alternative dispute resolution program to include financial issues. The dispute program currently addresses child custody matters.

According to Grubb, some inmates are not mentally fit to stand trial. Sending misdemeanor inmates to the state-run Singer Mental Health and Development Center in Rockford instead of another state-run mental health hospital in Elgin, should help reduce overcrowding, Grubb said.

Hazlett said eligible post-trial convicts should be sent quickly to the Illinois Department of Corrections’ facilities or placed on work release. Implementing the alternatives could save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars while maintaining public safety and

avoiding a federally imposed cap on the jail population, Hazlett said.

However, no county official has consulted any criminologist about addressing the county’s high crime rates or jail overcrowding problems.

Grubb said the 17th Judicial Circuit needs three more judges to process suspects through the criminal justice system more quickly, which would bring the total number of judges to 26 in the circuit. Winnebago County and Boone County are included in the circuit.

To obtain the additional judges, Grubb said he would have to petition the Illinois Supreme Court. However, Grubb said he has no intention to petition the court due to the state’s current budgetary challenges.

To learn more about crime and alternatives to jail, visit the National Criminal Justice Reference Service Web site at www.ncjrs.org.

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