Should the jail be downsized?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-8mROSuqsxR.jpg’, ”, ‘Michael Hazlett’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-0BswFN6X8u.jpg’, ”, ‘Richard Meyers’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-AIoUwvNTj6.jpg’, ”, ”);

Cutting the size of the proposed jail could save millions in construction and operating costs while meeting incarceration needs

If Winnebago County’s proposed $93-$130 million, 900- to 1,212-bed jail were downsized to 500 or 600 beds, at least $10-$30 million could be saved in jail construction and operating costs during the 20-year lifetime of the jail, while very likely meeting incarceration needs.

This is the conclusion of The Rock River Times’ analysis of interviews with two crime and jail experts, and this paper’s examination of efforts to reduce jail overcrowding since original jail bed needs were projected in 2001.

The savings could be reallocated to jail alternative programs or redirected in ways limited only by elected officials’ imaginations and the law.

When the public was solicited for its vote in the fall of 2002 for a 16 percent increase in the local sales tax to pay for a new jail, courtrooms and programs, reforms were not fully implemented that would have immediately reduced the number of inmates in jail.

The consequence of not implementing such reforms resulted in a phenomenon known as “jail bloating” as described in 2001 by Dr. Allen Beck, renowned crime and jail expert of Kansas-based Jail Concepts, Inc., and diagnosed in 2002 by Western Illinois University professor and crime expert Dr. Michael Hazlett.

Hazlett toured the jail in November 2002, and made public and media appearances in 2002 and earlier this year. Hazlett recommended renovation of the existing jail, increasing efficiency in the criminal justice system, and implementing jail alternatives and programs.

Beck was interviewed last week for this article, and said he was familiar with Winnebago County’s jail overcrowding problems during the 1990s, when he was the consultant for proposed drug courts. However, Beck referred specific quotations about current jail conditions in Winnebago County to his published papers available at his Web site (address provided at the end of this article).

Consultant and jail tax

At the time the jail tax was being considered in 2001 and 2002, the only consultant that was asked to project how large a jail the county would require to meet future needs was Atlanta-based Mark Goldman. He has been, and remains, a paid sub-consultant for the jail’s design team.

The design team is headed by Wisconsin-based The Durrant Group, Inc., an architectural firm that performs most of its services from its Madison, Wis., office. Durrant and Goldman also spearheaded recent efforts to build jails in DeKalb and Stephenson counties.

Goldman made several projections in 2001 that county officials considered to determine jail bed capacity. The lowest estimate by Goldman was the need for 1,628 beds by 2020 (see graph at right).

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli and Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers were singled out last week by Winnebago County Board member John Sweeny (R-14) as being the driving forces behind persuading voters and county board members to approve Goldman’s plan, and the jail tax to pay for the plan, which went into effect last July.

The jail tax boosted the local sales tax from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent, and has raised about $16.7 million during its first eight months through February. No provisions exist for the jail tax to expire.

Settlement and reforms

According to federal court documents, the county must make a “good faith effort” to reduce the jail’s average daily population (ADP) from 570 in 2002 to 400 by September 2005. However, the jail won’t be completed until September 2007.

The court documents also require 900 beds be available when the jail opens with a “potential capacity of 1,200 permanent beds,” reads the stay of litigation, which was driven by a 2000 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit.

Meyers said last week the county has reduced the average daily population from about 700 inmates last year to 550 in March. According to Meyers, the population reduction has been achieved primarily through two reforms that were recently fully implemented—day reporting and custody review. Goldman’s notes from the June 21, 2001, Citizens for Justice Committee meeting indicate those reforms were “created” between 2000 and 2001. However, Meyers said the county couldn’t implement the reforms until the tax was approved.

Meyers described day reporting as an inmate monitoring system that operates from the reopened satellite jail, which was originally opened in 1996 and closed due to alleged budget woes in 2002. While pre-trial individuals are out of jail on bond, they must report to the jail, according to a prescribed schedule.

Determining who is eligible for the day reporting program is the job of Logli’s Custody Review Team. Meyers said the team screens individuals to make bonding decisions and determine who needs to be incarcerated prior to sentencing.

Hazlett and Beck suggested such reforms should be implemented before determining the number of beds that may be needed for a new jail. Implementing reforms reduces the average daily population, which will likely affect jail bed forecasts.


During Hazlett’s media and public appearances in Rockford in February, Hazlett compared trying to predict jail bed needs to “nailing Jell-O to a wall.” Hazlett said to make predictions about jail bed needs, assumptions must be made about growth rates and whether to use high, low or middle population figures. Hazlett said such “forecasting” is not accurate or reliable.

Beck said in his 2001 publication about jail bed forecasting: “From a cost perspective, it is wasteful to immediately ‘build out’ the estimated capacity required to house inmates 15 or 20 years into the future. Such a strategy could result in constructing beds that would go unfilled for many years.”

Beck and Hazlett suggested implementation of alternatives would have an immediate impact on the jail’s population. The alternatives, such as bond reform, day reporting, and custody review, were not fully implemented until after the public safety tax went into effect last July.

In his 1996 article about jail forecasting, Beck said a forecaster must consider the following four factors:

Shifts in criminal justice policies that contributed to inmate population growth

Crime trends and arrest rates

Efficiency of the criminal justice system

Use of incarceration alternatives.

The forecast the county chose was Goldman’s 4.5 percent annual growth rate, which assumed an average daily jail population of 706 in 2001 and 842 in 2005.

Hazlett said: “We don’t have the sophistication to predict future criminal activity and crime rates. The best way to predict future jail population is to build it.” However, Hazlett said one method to predict future jail bed needs involves using incarceration rates per 100,000 citizens.

Using that method and Winnebago County’s 2002 incarceration rate, The Rock River Times estimated that in 2020, the county would need 586 jail beds.

Using a different method that assumed an average daily population of 400 inmates in 2005, as required by the stay of litigation, by 2020 the county will need 538 beds if the population grows 2 percent per year (see graph above).

Beck echoed Hazlett’s comments about the origins of the jail’s overcrowding problems, which he said was likely due to a phenomenon Beck described as “jail bloating.”

‘Jail bloating’

Beck’s 2001 article, “Jail bloating: a common but unnecessary cause of jail overcrowding” describes “seven major indicators of jail bloating.” Beck said he wrote the indicators in response to a request from county officials in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He defined jail bloating as “a condition in which a jail population is unnecessarily enlarged due to causes other than crime and sentencing laws.”

The following are Beck’s seven jail bloating indicators:

1. High percentage of inmates in pretrial status: Beck said there is a “very strong possibility” jail bloating exists if 80-89 percent of inmates are classified as having pretrial status.

About 82 percent of inmates were in pre-trial statu

s in 2001 and remained in that range for many years before and since 2001.

2. Slow case processing: Beck said “slow court systems are those in which at least 80 percent of the felony cases cannot be resolved within 180 days from the time they are charged with a crime.”

Logli did not respond to a question about what percent of felony cases were resolved within that period. Todd Schroeder, trial court administrator for the 17th Judicial Circuit, doubted there was any way to obtain such information.

3. Lack or low use of pretrial release:

Beck indicates pretrial options are reporting in person or by telephone, curfews, and electronic monitoring.

Meyers said day reporting was just recently implemented to reduce overcrowding. The action comes after the size of the jail was determined.

4. Lack of or low use of incarceration alternatives for sentenced offenders: Beck said the most common alternative to incarceration is probation.

In 2001, sentenced offenders comprised about 13 percent of the inmates in jail.

5. Holding defendants on relatively minor charges: After examining booking records in 2002, Hazlett estimated about one-third of the inmates could be released if alternatives were implemented for low-level offenders.

6. Presence of a large number of people held for failure to appear in court: Beck said issuance of postcards or implementation of a court date notification system could also reduce the numbers of inmates in jail.

Such a notification system was not being used in Winnebago County (see Jan. 28 article, “Can postcards reduce jail size?”).

7. State-sentenced inmates remain in county jail: Beck indicates that counties examine their transportation needs to move inmates out of jail and into state-run prisons as quickly as possible.

Inmates in this classification consisted of about 6 percent of the jail population in 2001.

Consequences and downsizing

Should the county fail to fulfill its part of the stay of litigation, the issues of forecasting, jail bloating and use of alternatives may be part of a trial in federal court. Logli has repeatedly expressed his desire to avoid a trial.

During the campaign to promote the jail to voters, Logli warned that a federal judge may place a “cap” on the jail population. Hazlett responded, “Living under a cap might not be that bad.”

As to reducing the size of the jail to save on construction costs, Gary Burdett, project director for the jail’s construction, said the range would be between $0 and about $46 million, or half of Durrant’s $93 million estimate to construct a 988-bed jail with an additional 224 beds for possible use. Burdett and Ashraf Sadek, director of project delivery for Durrant, said an exact savings could not be determined without an in-depth analysis.

Kevin Lindquist, an engineer for Durrant, estimated that if the size of the jail were cut in half, the energy savings to operate the jail would be proportional. In other words, if the jail size were cut from 1,200 to 600 beds, the cost to heat, cool, light and provide electricity to the jail would be cut in half.

John Sweeny, a member of the public safety committee that governs the jail’s construction, said: “If Paul Logli or Sheriff Meyers says we can reduce the size of the jail, I would support it. They’re the ones I am relying on to help us determine the size of the jail.”

Mary Ann Aiello (R-9), another member of the public safety committee and county board, said she would not support downsizing the proposed jail until programs and alternatives were implemented and evaluated.

However, if evaluations produced positive results, Aiello said she would consider a reduction in the number of jail beds.

Winnebago County Board member George Anne Duckett (D-12) responded to the idea of downsizing the jail by saying: “It sounds great, but it will never happen. You watch, we’ll be renting out jail space until we fill it with our own.”

Last fall, fellow board member Doug Aurand (D-3) said he would support efforts to rent extra beds to house federal inmates.

Beck said building the jail to federal jail standards will not increase construction costs, since federal standards correspond with American Correctional Association standards—the standards to which nearly all jails, including Winnebago County’s, are built.

To read Beck’s articles on crime and jails, visit

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