Jail settlement questions remain

Examination of the 2000 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit raises questions about the county’s reporting of jail population figures to the state and what role Homeland Security played in determining the number of beds in the proposed jail.

The average daily jail population goals for 2005 described in the Sept. 11, 2003, stay of litigation settlement for the 2000 federal jail lawsuit correspond with rated and functional jail facility capacities described in a 1996 memorandum. The memorandum was from former Winnebago County Sheriff Don Gasparini to former Winnebago County Board Chairman Eugene Quinn.

The jail lawsuit settlement indicates that by October 2007 the county will make a “good faith effort” to have a fully operational jail with 900 beds with a potential for 1,200 beds.

The settlement also indicates that by March 4, 2004, the average daily jail population “shall be no more than 550 inmates.”

The settlement mandates that the average daily jail population “shall be no more than 450” by March 2005, which corresponds exactly with the 1996 combined rated capacities of the main jail (292 inmates), satellite jail (96 inmates) and periodic imprisonment center (62 inmates).

The goal to reduce the numbers of inmates to 450 represents the combined facilities’ capacity for incarceration.

The settlement concludes that by September 2005, the average daily jail population will be reduced to 400 inmates, which corresponds with the 1996 combined functional capacities of the main jail (234 inmates), satellite jail (96 inmates) and periodic imprisonment center (62 inmates).

County officials told The Rock River Times in October 2002 the average daily jail population for 2002 was 570 inmates. However, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA), the county never reported figures for 2002 or 2001. ICJIA estimated the average daily jail population at 511 for 2001 (see graph on page A5).

According to ICJIA data, the county also did not report average daily jail population figures to the state in years around two efforts to pass tax increases to pay for a new jail in 1993 and 2002. ICJIA officials said the county did not report average daily jail population figures for the years 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2001 and 2002.

Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers said his office did report the jail population figures to the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). IDOC said they receive their information from the county but could not confirm whether the county reported the population figures by the time of publication.

Meyers said there are about 50 methods to calculate average daily jail populations. Meyers could not produce the population figures they reported to IDOC for 1992-2003 by the time of publication.

Crime expert and Western Illinois University Professor Dr. Michael Hazlett said there are no models that can accurately predict future demands for jail beds. Hazlett said the best predictor for how many beds would be filled if a new jail were built would be to just construct the jail. In other words, build it and they will come and fill the jail to its capacity. The settlement also reads that the county “denied all allegations of wrongdoing or liability in the class action and any other accusations of wrongdoing or violations of law” and that “the court has not ruled on any issue of liability.”

The proposed jail is also supposed to meet federal jail standards, in addition to state and American Correctional Associated Standards. Winnebago County Board member Doug Aurand (D-3) said in November 2003 he would support efforts to house federal prisoners in a new county jail.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli referred questions about what role Homeland Security played in determining the number of beds in the proposed jail to Meyers. Meyers referred the same question to Mark Goldman. Goldman was referred to the county by the National Institute of Correction, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Goldman was also the jail consultant who recently recommended DeKalb County expand their jail from 89 beds to 150 beds. DeKalb County leaders publicly voiced their support Feb. 17 for a 1/2 percent increase in the DeKalb County sales tax to pay for public safety initiatives.

In Winnebago and DeKalb counties, Goldman made his recommendations when he was affiliated with The Durrant Group Inc., the jail’s architect.

Finally, the stipulation reads: “Any person who does not submit an objection in the form and manner specified shall be deemed to have waived the right to make any such objection and shall be foreclosed from subsequently making any objection to the fairness, adequacy or reasonableness of the stipulation.” The “form and manner specified” indicates that all objections had to be filed “on or before Oct. 7, 2003.”

A status hearing on the jail lawsuit is scheduled on May 31, 2004, at 1:30 p.m. in the federal courthouse in downtown Rockford.

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