Part I of this series gave readers points to ponder when considering their vote on the jail (public safety) referendum on November 5th. This series continues by describing the evolution of the referendum, and trying to identify what in the criminal justice system is causing the jail overcrowding, and how it may be addressed.
You cant build your way out of this problem…Theres no doubt we need more beds, but we shouldnt build one more bed until we have some answers…. We must think about ways of not jailing some of the misdemeanor cases…. Could we speed up the court process somehow? said Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers, in a December, 2001 interview with The Rock River Times.
Building more jails is not going to solve a crime problem. You cant build yourself out of this. Among the actions which could be taken are increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system, said Western Illinois Universitys Professor of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration, Michael Hazlett, in an October, 2002 interview with The Rock River Times.
Last weeks article defined crime, and tried to identify why Winnebago County, especially Rockford, has consistently high crime
rates compared with the rest of Illinois.
The most notable causes for Winnebago Countys high crime rates are a combination of factors such as voucher programs for public housing residents, high-quality social services, homeless shelters, large numbers of low-level jobs, high numbers of service industry businesses, and an affordable housing market. These factors combine to make the Rockford area very attractive to parolees and criminals.
In addition, the article pointed out that the phenomenon of jail overcrowding is not unique to Winnebago County. The problem is state-wide, even national. The article also prescribed some efforts to help relieve jail overcrowding and reduce crime rates. The efforts described in the article are increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system, housing, transportation and social services. The efforts would also implement and expand community corrections, neighborhood watch groups, and community policing.
On the ballot November 5th will be a public safety referendum. The referendum asks Winnebago County voters to approve or reject a 1 percent increase in the local sales tax from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent. If the proposed 1 cent (1 percent) sales tax increase is approved and spent, as planned, annually 73.7 percent of the tax increase will go toward the proposed jail. The other 26.3 percent will go toward alternative programs designed to change criminal behavior, and new staff for the States Attorneys Office, Public Defenders Office, and Circuit Clerks Office.
The plan also calls for building a new jail in downtown Rockford, with a total cost to taxpayers of $109 million, which balloons with interest to more than $300 million during the next 22 years. Should the referendum pass, the 1 percent sales tax increase will add about $21 million per year to the countys budget. The current county budget is about $117 million. If voters approve, the tax increase will add approximately 20 percent to the countys budgetthe largest increase in county history. According to Hazlett, the increase in the sales tax will hit the poor disproportionately hard.
Explained differently, it may be less expensive and more effective to put a majority or greater percentage of tax dollars into the alternatives to jails, rather than pouring 73.7 percent of the $300 million, into building, staffing, and maintaining a large new jail. Specifically, in order to alleviate jail overcrowding, further research and sources point to reforming the criminal justice system before building a new 975-bed jail.
Should the referendum be approved, Winnebago County Board member Peter MacKay (R-5) said the next county board, which meets in December, may reset the priorities that have been stated by Winnebago County States Attorney Paul Logli and Meyer. In other words, rather than giving 73.7 percent of the revenue generated through the sales tax to the jail, and 26.3 percent going to the alternative programs, county officials may assign a greater portion of the revenue to the more effective alternatives to jail. Furthermore, MacKay says the money generated by the 1 percent increase may be spent on any public safety issue, not just the jail.
Jail and drugs
The countys plan calls for increasing the jails capacity from its current 393 beds to 975 beds, with the ability to expand to 1200 beds, if needed. Winnebago County Board member Mary Ann Aiello (R-8) said she originally wanted a 2300-bed jail. When Logli was originally asked how the size of the jail was determined, Logli said consultations were conducted with architects.
Asked a similar question, concerning how the size of a jail should be determined, Hazlett responded, We dont have the sophistication to predict future criminal activity and crime rates. The best way to predict future jail population is to build it. In other words, build it, they will come, and it will soon be filled to capacity.
However, Hazlett adds, if necessary, future jail capacity rates per 100,000 people can be estimated, if assumptions are made about the general population for a given area. Using the formula, and assuming Winnebago County keeps its 2002 jail capacity rate per 100,000, in 2020, Winnebago County will need a jail to house 586 inmates. Again, the best way to predict future jail capacity is to just build the jail. The estimate for a jail capacity of 586 inmates is generous because it assumes that in 2002, there are enough beds for the average daily jail population.
In addition, the estimate should be considered in context of the fact that average daily jail population rates per 100,000 people have skyrocketed in Winnebago County from 138 in 1994 to 205 in 2002. This data corresponds with an increase in both the total number of drug arrests and drug arrest rates per 100,000 people since the mid 1990s.
According to Hazlett, drug dealers and users are easily apprehended and placed into jails. The causes for this construction-overcrowding phenomenon are many. But Hazlett says one of the primary causes for jail overcrowding is the federal and state governments ineffective drug enforcement policies.
Both Aiello and Logli named Mark Goldman as the consultant who suggested the size of the proposed jail.
Aiello said Goldman is not a criminologist, as is Hazlett. Aiello also said, to the best of her knowledge, a criminologist was not consulted to help draft the referendum or help determine the size of the jail.
Dina Getty, the Winnebago County Sheriffs Departments director of corrections, said Goldman was referred to the county by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), an agency within the U.S. Dept. Of Justice. Getty was also unsure of Goldmans level of criminal-justice expertise. However, Getty stated that Goldman had access to many experts.
Aiello believes Goldman is a crime expert. Neither Aiello nor Logli could supply information on how to contact Goldman.
As of press time, repeated phone calls to Goldmans Atlanta office were not returned. Steve Swisher, program specialist for the NIC, said to be listed as a consultant in the NICs data bank, the applicant must submit a resumé. The resumé is reviewed by NIC staff and is either rejected or entered into their computer for future reference. Swisher said Goldmans name was not familiar, and referred The Rock River Times to Administrative Officer Judy Evans in Washington, D.C. Evans was contacted but could not supply information about Goldman before press time.
In Hazletts expert opinion, the 73.7 percent generated from the increase in the sales tax, which may fund the new jail, could much more effectively be spent on the alternatives to jails. The questions are how to best reduce crime rates, alleviate jail overcrowding and where tax money is best spent. Also, do taxpayers want such a huge amount funneled into a jail, instead of more positive forms of economic development?
The August 15, 2001 meeting minutes of the Winnebago County Justice System Master Planning Committee read:
Mark (Goldman) noted that (Winnebago County) staff are incarcerated the most. Surroundings need to at least meet the minimum requirements. Small, dark, crowded areas affect morale and make it harder to keep professional staff. The Sheriff noted that turnover in Corrections used to run about 48 percent, but after the County Board adjusted salaries, the attrition rate dropped to probably 12 percent. Openings have dropped from 17-25 openings prior to salarydown 7 percent now. Mark noted that staff morale seems more positive in the satellite jail. Corrections is becoming more of a career path. There are currently three Basic Training sites in Illinois and Winnebago County has been selected as a fourth site with training to be held in conjunction with Rock Valley College in November.
These minutes suggest that Goldman views jail construction as an opportunity for economic development. This view seems to be shared by Logli.
At the September 30th meeting of the Rockford City Council, Logli stated, If you want to kill off the downtown, move it (the jail) to the periphery of town. In contradiction, Hazlett states, I dont think any community wants to invest a good portion of their economic development into building jails.
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Ogle County was considering construction of a much larger jail/prison than the county needs because supporters hoped that they could lease space to the federal government for detainees from Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). However, resident opposition has all but dashed supporters hopes. This means that the 250 beds INS officials were seeking to contract for 20 years on a prisoner-per-rate basis, could be lured to Winnebago County, according to State Senator Dave Syverson (R-34). More economic development?
Hazlett says often when counties build new jails, they are made larger than their community needs to attract lucrative contracts for housing inmates from all levels of
government, especially from the federal government.
Does Winnebago County want to invest tax dollars in developing its local economy on jail expansion, or is the goal to reduce crime rates and alleviate jail overcrowding, or is it a combination? This question has yet to be answered by community leaders and the citizens of Winnebago County.
To identify where a large system is failing, necessary data must be collected to prescribe remedies. Efforts to identify bottlenecks in the Winnebago County criminal justice system have shown that some of the data which could be collected and used as benchmarks to identify backups in the system, are not being collected.
In collaboration with Professor Hazlett, The Rock River Times asked for data from the Winnebago County States Attorneys office, Winnebago County Sheriffs Department and Winnebago County Circuit Clerks office. The purpose of this request for data was to help identify bottlenecks in the Winnebago County criminal justice system. The result of this effort shows a criminal justice system that lacks data to easily identify backups.
Here is the list of the requested data.
For the years (fiscal or calender), 1999-2002:
1. Number of continuances filed by the States Attorney office, Public Defenders office, or defendants private attorney.
2. Number of those arrested that were released on personal recognizance bonds (I-bonds).
3. Number of those arrested that were denied bond.
4. The average bond dollar amounts, by judge and type of offense. The specific offenses requested were drug offenses, burglary, armed robbery and aggravated assault.
5. Percent of the average daily jail population that is black and Hispanic.
6. Number of parolees that have been rearrested.
7. Number of inmates on home monitoring.
8. Number of inmates on work release.
Although some of the data are available (questions 7 and 8), Logli said in an October 25th interview that he didnt know of any county that collects such detailed data.
Getty said obtaining such information would be too cumbersome and apologized that the information was not available.
Tom Klein, the chief deputy Winnebago County court administrator, said he had the ability to collect data such as number of cases filed and closed, and numbers of orders of protection. But he added, We dont really keep a lot of statistics. Specifically, he said the system was not equipped to supply answers to questions one through six.
Again, when Logli was asked how to identify bottlenecks in the criminal justice system without collecting this type of data, Logli responded by saying, I dont know of any county that keeps that kind of information.
Judges, lawyers and criminals
Sources from within the Winnebago County criminal justice system have stated that a major problem causing jail overcrowding is not only the small numbers of lawyers in the States Attorneys and Public Defenders offices, but the number of judges available to hear cases.
Meyers has stated that 80 to 95 percent of the inmates in the Winnebago County jail are in the pre-trial phase in the criminal process. Meyers has also stated that at least one-third of the inmates are misdemeanor cases. Meyers statement is supported by data presented to county officials in a June 20, 2001 copy of the Winnebago County Justice System Study and Master Plan by Goldman.
A source has said that more than half of the average daily jail population are in jail because they cannot afford $100 for bond. The same source says that these inmates, who cannot afford $100 bond, do not pose a major risk to the public, and should be on home monitoring. The source says that if home monitoring was implemented, it would not only drop the average daily jail population below capacity, but estimates the cost at $3,000-$4,000 per inmate per year. This is significantly less expensive than the estimated $20, 000 per inmate per year in a full-metal jail.
Sources also say that many of the actions that could help reduce the average daily jail population, such as increasing the number of parole and probation officers to monitor inmates on community supervision, have not been implemented, in earnest, before proposing the jail. The sources are also quick to point out that the county had an electronic home monitoring program during the 1990s but discontinued it due to under funding
Logli has stated publicly on numerous occasions, the need for more lawyers for the States Attorneys and the Public Defenders offices. A source within the criminal justice system has said the number of criminal cases judges are asked to hear each year make it very difficult to process inmates quickly thorough the system.
Syverson feels there is a shortage of judges in the 17th Judicial Circuit court system, and agreed that this is contributing to the jail overcrowding. Syverson also said that within the last two years, two full-time judges were added to the circuit. Syverson adds that he recently introduced a bill for another judgeship. However, amendments to the bill, tacked on by Chicago-area legislators, made the bill too expensive, and Syversons legislation failed.
Should the referendum be rejected on November 5th, Logli has warned that the county faces a federal lawsuit in which federal officials may place a cap on the number of inmates that can be housed in the county jail.
As Hazlett says, Living under a cap might not be that bad. In Texas, Hazlett was involved in several lawsuits similar to the one filed against Winnebago County. Hazlett explains, the lawsuit must go through trigger, fact-finding, liability and remedy phases. According to Logli, the lawsuit is at the fact-finding phase.
The lawsuit was filed more than two years ago by attorneys Jeff Heckinger and Tom Greenwald on behalf of Winnebago County jail inmates, specifically, Timothy Chatmon, according to Heckingers office. Both Heckinger and Greenwald were unavailable for comment.
How the approval or rejection of the referendum this fall will affect the lawsuit is unknown. Should the referendum be rejected, the county could put the issue back on the ballot in April, 2003.
Such a failure would give public officials time to re-evaluate their priorities.
Criminal justiceindustrial complex
During U.S. President Dwight Eisenhowers farewell address to the nation in 1961, he said:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
These words cautioned Americans about the potential harm that powerful government agencies and private corporations could inflict on our people, if citizens were not aware and involved to work for peace. Eisenhower coined a term to describe the relationship between the armed forces, federal government and private corporations. He called it the militaryindustrial complex.
Similarly, it would appear that there is an emerging complexcall it the criminal justiceindustrial complex. The complex is the relationship between the expanding criminal justice/law enforcement agencies/physical facilities and private social service corporations/physical facilities, to knowingly or unknowingly obtain power and wealth at the expense of civil liberties, tax revenues and the welfare of its citizenry.
Again, does Winnebago County want to invest tax dollars in developing its local economy on jail expansion, or is the goal to reduce crime rates and alleviate jail overcrowding, or is it a combination? Again, this question has yet to be answered by community leaders and the citizens of Winnebago County.
The proposed jail on the public safety referendum before Winnebago County voters on November 5th appears to be part of the emerging criminal justiceindustrial complex. As Hazlett says about jail construction, Its a growth industry.
Hazlett will be in downtown Rockford at the Lafayette Hotel on Friday, November 1st from 3-4:30 p.m. Dr. Hazlett will be here to discuss the jail referendum. The public and media are invited.
Prior to the discussion, Dr. Hazlett and members of The Rock River Times will take a tour of the Winnebago County Jail at 1:30 p.m.
Winnebago County States Attorney Paul Logli, Winnebago Co. Sheriff Richard Meyers, and Winnebago Co. Board member Mary Ann Aiello (R-8) have all declined discussing the jail referendum with Dr. Hazlett. All cite conflicting schedules.
The Lafayette Hotel is located at 411 Mulberry St.