Left Justified: Is bigger better?
By By Stanley Campbell
A jail for 1200thats what the Winnebago County Citizens for Justice Committee proposed on July 10 that the county build. This would be a four-story-high, four-square block edifice near to the Rockford Housing Authority offices (how ironic).
Everyone knows we need a new jail. Everyone knows the old facility is unsafe for the inmates as well as the staff. A judge will soon rule, most likely to cap the number of prisoners held, so this new jail is sorely needed. But 1200 beds (1589 in the total system) might be a bit much.
Granted, the outside consultants, Goldman, suggested 1900 beds based upon increasing crime rates. But the bottleneck appears to be the court system. Eighty percent of the present inmates are awaiting trial and sentencing. If we can sentence faster, we may have less need for jail space.
The citizens recommendations also include four new jury courtrooms, a tunnel connecting the new and old courthouse, and that the sheriff move to the new facility. The report also suggests that we fund alternative programs, establish a jail population control board, and budget more staff for the entire criminal justice system. It suggested that even a small task such as sending out postcards to remind people of court dates may cut down on the number of warrants issued and the jail time accrued.
Winnebago County is not the only Illinois community facing an overcrowded jail. In McLean County, the Bloomington-Normal area is grappling with the same problem. Lo and behold, there is a similar citizens committee, and they are about six months to a year ahead of us. Rockford Urban Ministries is hosting Barbara Stewart, consultant with the McLean County Compact, who will share their ideas on alternatives for the justice system. Barbara was a former member of the McLean County Board and served on their justice committee. She is also very active through the local League of Women Voters.
This open meeting at 7 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, July 31, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St., will be co-sponsored by the Rockford League of Women Voters. We are inviting members of the County Board, and we hope to have a free and frank discussion. We hope you can join us.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.