Public weighs in on jail design

n Questions persist about jail alternatives and need for new jail

Spurred by outrage that the public was not included in designing the new jail, community members met for nearly nine hours during three evenings in the past 10 days to help county officials work out new jail plans. As a result, four plans are being considered by the jail’s architect, Iowa-based company Durrant.

Concepts V, W and Y-1

Designs included ground-level retail space, a parking deck and shifting the jail toward West State Street. Three previous designs were criticized by many community members at the meetings for being too horizontal, sprawling and not interfacing with the public. The county’s first choice, which sparked outrage, is known as “Concept Y.”

“Concept V,” discussed Nov. 18 and Monday, called for two stories of administration offices, court rooms and a main entrance along West State Street. Three sides of the offices, rooms and entrance were surrounded by the three-story jail, totaling 84 feet.

A multi-level, above ground parking deck would sit along West State Street to the north of the jail. More parking and green space was planned between the jail and Chestnut Street and to the east and west of the buildings. In total, designers want 300 parking spaces.

Concept V can be viewed on the county’s Web site at Another design called “Concept W” and a modified original design known as “Concept Y-1”, may also be viewed at the Web site. “Concept W” has the main entrance facing east.

Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers said he had concerns about “Concept V” because of potential operations costs. Meyers said proximity of the courts to the jail is the primary cost factor for building the new jail, which is why he favored the county’s original jail selection, which is known as “Concept Y.”

Larry Morrissey, a local attorney and appointee to the Citizens’ Commission on Public Safety and Crime, said he would like to see operating cost comparisons for all the plans at a future design planning meeting.

Implement alternatives,

monitor results

Scott Carter, local Libertarian Party activist, began the public comment portion of the Nov. 18 meeting by calling for a halt in designing the jail. Carter said plans for a new jail should be scrapped because no criminologist has been consulted about how the county can best address jail overcrowding and crime rates. Carter said: “I don’t think we need a jail this size. …We need to talk about alternatives [to jail].”

During an interview Nov. 23, Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times, added to Carter’s comments by saying: “County leaders have repeatedly stated the reason for building a new jail was to avoid a federally imposed cap on the jail population, as a result of Timothy Chatmon’s 2000 lawsuit.

“To address the lawsuit immediately, county officials should implement electronic monitoring and a court date notification system, create a more efficient suspect booking system, increase the use of personal recognizance bonds and day reporting, and move eligible convicts out of jail more quickly to the Illinois Department of Corrections’ prisons or to the work-release program, before finalizing plans for a new jail.

“Once the pre-trial and post-trial issues are adequately addressed, the county should monitor how the alternatives affect the jail population and then use that information to help determine the size of a new jail, if it is still needed” Schier added.

“Currently, the county has no plans to implement additional data gathering systems to identify bottlenecks in the criminal justice system. The lack of such data gathering systems and alternatives, prevents the county from implementing measures that have the greatest probability of positively affecting our jail overcrowding problems.

“Focusing on jail construction shifts our efforts from reducing crime rates and implementing jail alternatives to simply warehousing inmates. Jail construction provides the incentive for the criminal justice system to become even less efficient than it is already,” Schier said. “The reason for the big push right now is to line the construction companies pockets as-soon-as-possible with as many taxpayer dollars as possible.”

At the Nov. 24 jail-design meeting, Rev. Steve Bland, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, told The Rock River Times he plans to meet with Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli to discuss implementing jail alternatives before building a new jail. Bland is an appointee to the Citizens’ Commission on Public Safety and Crime. Bland was appointed to the commission by Logli.

Three design meetings

The effort for more public input into the jail’s design was led by Morrissey. He and about 50 other concerned citizens met for more than three hours Nov. 17 at the Burpee Museum of Natural History. Citizens also met for more than three hours on Nov. 18 and more than two hours Nov. 24 at Memorial Hall.

The Nov. 17 meeting was led by Morrissey. County officials conducted the Nov. 18 and Nov. 24 meetings.

During the Nov. 18 meeting, Gary Burdett, jail construction program director, pounded his fist on a table to emphasize his assertion that there would be no further public meetings concerning the jail’s design. By Nov. 24, Burdett appeared to change his assertion by saying he encouraged more public input into the design process.

Citizens, including historic preservation activist Gary Carlson, expressed interest in a more vertical design of the jail.

However, Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers said a more vertical design for the jail was not cost effective. Meyers said operating costs were $500,000 per floor. Meyers did not say how he arrived at his estimate.

Gerald Grubb, chief judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit, which includes Winnebago and Boone counties, added to Meyers’ comment by saying increases in height of the structure with the claimed higher costs will decrease funds for treatment programs.

The previous jail design, known as “Concept Y,” was slated for three tiers with a maximum height of 84 feet. Concepts V and W are also 84 feet.

Jail tax, location, cost and size

County officials want to build a $97 million, 988-bed jail. Plans call for about 650,000 square feet of floor space. Previous estimates in 2002 slated the jail at $130 million for a 1,200 bed jail. Current plans call for the ability to expand to at least 1,212 jail beds, possibly 1,500.

Construction, planning and staffing for the new jail, alternatives to jail and treatment programs are being funded by a 1 percent increase in the county’s sales tax from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent. The sales tax went into effect in July and has already generated $4,017,162 during July and August. Figures for September, October and November were not available at press time.

If constructed, the jail will sit on four blocks bounded by West State Street on the north, Chestnut Street on the south, South Winnebago Street on the east and Horsman Street on the west.

Illinois Business Route 20 will have a curved bypass of West State Street and eliminate a section of South Rockton Avenue into a new extension of Chestnut Street. Such a move could be cause for concern for many merchants in the River District who feel traffic will bypass their businesses, which benefitted from the removal of the mall on West State Street.

Jail expert

Crime expert Dr. Michael Hazlett, professor of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration at Western Illinois University and former Texas jail inspector, said he is willing to make a presentation on jail alternatives to the full county board. However, county officials have balked at that possibility. Other interested citizens have said they may bring Hazlett to Rockford anyway to inform the public in the very near future.

Over the years, many of Hazlett’s graduate students have entered law enforcement careers in the Rockford area.

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