StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-ShTEvkqt36.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Rockford Rescue Missions sign remains among the buildings rubble, which will be cleared to make way for the countys 1,212-bed jail. County officials said early jail construction means more jobs for the region. Groundbreaking for the new jail was Oct. 12.’);
County moves forward with project despite plaintiffs objection to jail construction
Efforts to discuss downsizing Winnebago Countys proposed 1,212-bed jail were quashed last week by States Attorney Paul Logli, despite other parties willingness to participate in talks, and evidence that undermines the countys rationale for building a jail that size.
Logli said Oct. 12 that any talks about downsizing the jail would be inappropriate. Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers did not return several messages for comment.
In the wake of news that jail lawsuit plaintiff Timothy Chatmon does not support the agreement, the county negotiated with Chatmons lawyers calling for jail construction, The Rock River Times contacted Chatmon, 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Kathryn Zenoff and crime expert Dr. Michael Hazlett of Western Illinois University. All three agreed to talks to discuss the size of the proposed jail. Logli and Meyers refused to participate.
Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen was also contacted, but said if the size of the jail were to be re-examined, that action would have to be led by Logli and Meyers.
Chatmon said in a petition to the federal court in May that he wasnt aware and didnt approve of the 2003 agreement his lawyers John F. Heckinger Jr. and Thomas E. Greenwald negotiated with the countys outsourced attorney Paul R. Cicero of Cicero and France, P.C., (see Sept. 29 article Jail lawsuit plaintiff urges tax repeal).
Logli and Meyers spearheaded the 2002 campaign to pass a 16 percent hike in the countys sales tax to pay for the $127-$130 million jail, new court rooms, criminal justice personnel and jail alternative programs.
However, numerous articles strongly suggest the size of the proposed jail will carry inordinate social and economic costs while undermining efforts to reduce jail overcrowding and crime rates.
Logli and Meyers campaigned for the jail tax on a platform that the estimated $23.1 million in expected revenue would help reduce crime rates and jail overcrowding. They also repeatedly cited Chatmons federal jail overcrowding lawsuit as a major reason to pass the tax or otherwise possibly having the court impose a cap on the number of inmates in the jail.
At the Sept. 30, 2002, Rockford City Council meeting, Logli told aldermen and television viewers that the type of criminals that would be released if the new jail were not built would be misdemeanor, forgery, retail theft, prostitutes and business burglars.
He also implied that Rockfords high crime rate was due to having to release criminals back onto the streets due to a shortage of jail beds.
However, the countys overcrowding problems were likely due to a phenomenon known as jail bloating, as defined by Dr. Allen Beck of Kansas-based Jail Concepts Inc., and diagnosed in 2002 by Hazlett.
Beck defined jail bloating as a condition in which a jail population is unnecessarily enlarged due to causes other than crime and sentencing laws (see June 23 article Should the jail be downsized?). Hazlett, a former Texas jail inspector, toured Winnebago Countys jail on Nov. 1, 2002, and concluded that jail bloating was the likely cause of the overcrowding.
Hazlett recommended renovating the existing 394-bed jail, not increasing the number of jail beds, and funneling tax money into jail alternatives and to use the jail as a scarce resource.
County officials Sept. 23 press release suggests the county views the jail as a jobs and public works program. The press release reads: Field office trailers will be arriving on the criminal justice center site…The installation of these trailers…is one of the first steps that will bring construction jobs to the region this fall. …[E]arly start …means hundreds of jobs sooner.
County officials have been trying to build a new jail since 1993, when they failed in their attempt to raise property taxes to pay for a 300-bed addition to the jail. Voters rejected the proposed property tax hike in November 1993, which prompted the county to lobby for changing the state law that did not allow sales taxes to be used for public safety purposes.
The countys effort to change the law succeeded in 1995 when State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) sponsored the bill that allowed the jail tax be imposed on retailers (see Oct. 6 article Syverson sponsored jail tax bill). Former Winnebago County Board Chairman Gene Quinn lobbied for Syversons bill.
However, even though the tax may not be imposed without direct voter approval, the tax cannot be directly repealed by voters.
During previous interviews, Logli and Meyers cited Atlanta-based jail consultant Mark Goldmans recommendation concerning the size of the jail. The lowest recommendation Goldman suggested was 1,628 beds by 2020. Goldman was and remains a sub-consultant for the jails architect, The Durrant Group Inc.
Hazlett and Beck said jail-bed forecasting such as Goldmans is not valid. Both Hazlett and Beck suggested implementing jail alternatives and assessing their impacts before deciding how many beds are needed for the jail. Chatmon agreed. Logli and Meyers wont comment.
County officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 12 for the new jail.