Ogle County refuses INS offer
By Joe Baker, Senior Editor
On Nov. 19, by a vote of 16-7, the Ogle County Board rejected the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) offer to house 300 to 500 detainees in a $27 million facility, which was to be built by Ogle County taxpayers. Prior to addressing the INS offer, board members voted 12-11 to build a $17.7 million judicial center, which will be used primarily for office space.
The INS offered $9.1 million toward construction of a $27 million, 640-bed jail/detention center, and a per diem rate for each INS detainee.
Opponents of the offer said the INS could not guarantee, in writing, that the facility will be filled. The opponents also said INS would not provide a written guarantee that specified the rate the county would be paid for each detainee, until after construction.
Proponents of the INS offer said the facility would essentially pay for itself. They referred to a Western Illinois University study that said the proposed facility could generate 292 jobs and $18.7 million each year for the local economy.
The proposed INS facility and judicial center has been a controversial topic of discussion in Ogle County for the past three months. The INS facility debate has drawn attention from Rockford and Chicago area.
Winnebago County Facility
Whether or not Winnebago County officials will now pursue attracting INS is unknown. The INS detainees could be housed in the proposed 976-bed jail, to be built in Rockfords River District (downtown).
Earlier this month, according to election officials, Winnebago County voters approved a 1 percent increase in the local sales tax for public safety issues. Winnebago County States Attorney Paul Logli and other county officials believe that about 74 percent of the estimated $23 million per year that will be generated by the new tax should go toward building, maintaining, and staffing a huge 976-bed jail, even though The Rock River Times (TRRT) estimates the county needs no larger than a 586-bed jail.
In an interview with TRRT on Nov. 1, State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) said Winnebago County officials should consider attracting INS inmates. Efforts to reach Logli and Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers for comment were unsuccessful.
McHenry County interested
According to the Chicago Tribune, McHenry County was interested in the INS proposal. McHenry County spent about one year and $20,000 to study turning a floor of their existing jail into an INS center. However, officials there were surprised to learn in August that INS was more interested in Ogle County.
It is unknown why INS was more interested in Ogle County than it was in McHenry County. However, INS has had success in convincing smaller, poorer communities to house INS inmates, such as the southern Illinois town of Ullin. McHenry County is more populated, has a lower percentage of people below the poverty level and has a higher per capita income than Ogle County.
Ogle County Board Meeting
Some opponents of the Ogle County justice center said construction of the facility should be delayed. They cited concerns about possible declining property values for land that is owned by Commonwealth Edison, a major source of revenue for Ogle County. The pending property reassessment applies to the Edison-owned Byron nuclear plant and other properties.
At the meeting, Oregon residents expressed their unhappiness about proposing to locate the INS detention center in their town. However, some Polo residents were interested in building a home for inmates.
For Polo to land the jail/detention center, the county jail would have had to move from Oregon to Polo. Another option was for Polo to house only the INS facility. This second option would have made the INS center a federally built, maintained and owned facility. Neither of these options was addressed by the board at the meeting.
Debbie Achim, assistant director for detention and removals for INS, explained that no per diem could be promised until after construction of the facility. Achim also said she had a firm commitment from Washington INS officials to fill the proposed beds for 20 years.
Achim said the money for the INS facility would be returned to the U.S. Marshals office. The search to consolidate detainees into one facility near Chicago will go forward, said Achim.
Near the end of the Cold War in 1989, the former Soviet Union incarcerated 681 persons per 100,000 people. In the same year, Apartheid-era South Africa incarcerated 750 people per 100,000 residents. According to the Indiana Reporter, this year the United States imprisons 690 people for every 100,000 who remain free. Currently, Winnebago County has an incarceration rate of 506 per 100,000.
The question remains what impact the war on terrorism, the Patriot Act, the Defense Departments Total Information Awareness program and the pending Homeland Security Department will have on incarceration rates and Americans. Some critics say, based upon these events, it would appear that Winnebago County could expect to surpass Apartheid-era South Africas rate soon.
Julie Watt, Ogle County correspondent, contributed to this article.