Jail population down to 454 inmates

n County won’t reveal bid amounts for construction of new jail

Parties in the ongoing federal jail overcrowding lawsuit met March 15 and agreed to meet again in July to monitor the County’s progress in reducing the average daily population in the Winnebago County Jail. Paul Cicero, a private attorney hired by State’s Attorney Paul Logli to represent the County’s interests in the lawsuit, said the average daily population was down to 454 inmates—only four inmates short of the March 2005 goal of 450 prisoners.

Logli, Cicero and attorneys for the plaintiff, Tom Greenwald and John Heckinger, met for about 20 minutes in a closed meeting room in the federal courthouse to discuss the status of the case. Greenwald and Heckinger represent former father and son inmates Timothy Chatmon and Timothy Chatmon Jr. in the lawsuit.

Chatmon said during an interview last fall he objected to the stay-of-litigation agreement Heckinger and Greenwald negotiated with Cicero, which called for building a new 1,200-bed jail. Chatmon urged taxpayers and citizens to repeal the sales tax, which is paying for construction of the new jail (see Sept. 29, 2004, article “Jail lawsuit plaintiff urges tax repeal”).

The jail tax collected about $2.1 million more than the expected $23.1 million during the first year it was in effect. The County’s sales tax increased from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent on July1, 2003, and collected about $25.2 million during its first year.

During an interview April 4 from his Texas residence, Chatmon repeated his claim that he has not received anything for his cooperation in the lawsuit. Heckinger said in a letter to Chatmon last September that he would not be compensated until after the jail was constructed.

Chatmon wants to fire Heckinger and Greenwald, but does not have the money to hire a new attorney.

This is the second federal jail overcrowding lawsuit filed against Winnebago County in the last 11 years. The first lawsuit was also filed by Heckinger in 1994, when the average daily population was 362 inmates. The current lawsuit was filed in 2000, when the average daily population was 511 inmates.

Dr. Michael Hazlett, professor of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration, said the County’s overcrowding is very likely due to inefficiencies in the criminal justice system, and not a need to increase the capacity of the existing or new jail. The current county jail has a capacity of 393 inmates, which was built in the middle 1970s.

Hazlett, a former Texas jail inspector, suggested in 2002 renovating the existing county jail from a linear to direct supervision design, which would be significantly less than $130 million for the proposed jail. The new jail is expected to open in early 2007 or sooner.

Despite evidence suggesting no need for a 1,212-bed jail, Logli and County officials have refused to reconsider its size. County officials have also refused to reveal the bid amounts for the proposed jail, which were received in March.

A spokesman for the Federal Marshal’s Office said they plan to pay the County to house federal prisoners in the jail after it is completed. If the new jail is completed, the County will have a capacity to incarcerate about 1,700 inmates in all its facilities.

From the April 6-12, 2005, issue

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