The criminal justice-industrial complex

Consider this when pondering your vote on the upcoming jail (public safety) referendum— “It’s a monster made of mortar and brick that must be fed with tax dollars,” said Western Illinois University’s Law Enforcement and Justice Administration Professor, Michael Hazlett.

Hazlett’s statement was in reference to increasing jail capacities in an attempt to lower crime rates and alleviate jail overcrowding. Hazlett says, in order to lower crime rates, “the entire community needs to address the issue. Building more jails is not going to solve a crime problem. You can’t build yourself out of this.”

Professor Hazlett has been studying crime for more than 25 years, and is an expert in criminal justice statistics and research. Hazlett made his remarks on Friday, October 18th, during an interview with The Rock River Times—the same day that community leaders held two press conferences to express their support for the “public safety” referendum. The referendum calls for building a new jail at a cost to taxpayers of $109 million, which balloons with interest to more than $300 million over the next 22 years.

If the goal of the referendum is to lower the crime rate and alleviate jail overcrowding, Hazlett said the $300 million would be more wisely spent on “broader efforts.” Such efforts would include 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.

Hazlett points out that “politicians and leaders don’t like to talk about this, but jail construction and prison construction are part of the problem of recidivism, repeat offenders, and longer sentences.” Hazlett explains that when attempting to address crime problems, community leaders often implement ineffective, even counter-productive solutions, because they believe that deterrence actions are more effective in dealing with crime. In other words, community leaders often do not fully understand the complexities of crime, in the long or short run.

Referendum and budget

If Winnebago County voters approve the referendum on November 5th, a 1 cent increase in the local sales tax will be mandated for an indefinite period of time. The proposed 1 cent increase in the local sales tax will fund a new jail, alternative programs designed to change criminal behavior, and new staff for the State’s Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, and Circuit Clerk’s Office. If passed, the tax increase will cost the “average family $4 to $6 per month,” until it is repealed, according to Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli.

Explained differently, if the proposed sales tax is approved by voters, annually 73.7 percent of revenue 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 State’s Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, and Circuit Clerk’s Office. In Hazlett’s opinion, the money going toward the jail could be spent much more effectively on the alternatives to jails.

The county’s plan calls for increasing the capacity of the jail from its current 393 beds to 975 beds, with the ability to expand to 1200 beds, if needed. When asked how the size of the jail was determined, Logli became agitated and said that consultations were conducted with the architects. Asked a similar question, Hazlett responded, “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.” In other words, build it, they will come, and it will soon be filled to capacity.

The cost of the new jail is slated at $109 million. The proposed facility will be located near the current Public Safety Building, downtown. Logli reports that the physical structure of the building is expected to last 20-30 years. This period corresponds exactly with the time it will take to pay off the debt by constructing the jail. Including interest, taxpayers will be paying more than $300 million for the term of the debt.

Should the referendum pass, the 1 cent sales tax will add about $23 million per year to the county’s budget. The current county budget is about $117 million. If voters approve the 1 cent sales tax increase, it will add approximately 20 percent to the county’s budget—the largest increase in county history. If the project is delayed, Logli estimates an increase of 2.5 to 3.5 percent per year in costs of construction.

Construction of the new jail and passage of the referendum is an urgent concern for community leaders, who have repeatedly asked for the public’s support for this tax. Those leaders expressing support for the referendum on October 18th were: Rockford Mayor Doug Scott; Loves Park Mayor Darryl Lindberg; Machesney Park Village President Linda Vaughn; Winnebago Village President Dave Hassel; and Pecatonica Village President Robert Whetsel, who stated that the referendum has “been researched very well.”

Crime rate

In a presentation at the September 30 meeting of the Rockford City Council, Logli inferred that the recent increase in the crime rate in Winnebago County is due to having to release criminals back onto the streets because of a lack of jail space to house inmates.

As defined by Hazlett, crime rate is the number of crimes per 100,000 people in a given geographic area. The crime rate is also known more formally as the Crime Index Offense Rate (CIOR). The rates are frequently used by many agencies for assessment purposes.

Hazlett continues, “Even if you built a prison or jail large enough to house all of the criminals, the crime rate might temporarily decrease, but it (the crime rate) will eventually go back up, because these criminals are eventually released back into the community.” Hazlett adds that criminals immigrating into the community may also cause higher crime rates.

Logi’s assertion that the recent increase in the crime rate is due to releasing criminals onto the street, is misleading, if not put in perspective with past crime index offense rates.

Data obtained from various government agencies, combined with testimony at a state legislative hearing on affordable housing issues in the Rockford area on October 16th, suggested that the cause of the increase in the number of inmates in the county jail, and the recent increase in the crime rate, is more complex than what Logli and other community leaders claimed.

“Crime is a complex issue,” says Hazlett. However, there are two components to crime: The first component is to have “people in the right frame of mind that are thinking about committing a crime, but it’s usually not planned (the crime).” The second component is “you have to have targets, and a low chance of getting caught.” Targets would include people, businesses and property. “Adding more police doesn’t necessarily solve the problem either because it just disperses the crime to where the police have less of a presence,” states Hazlett.

CIORs obtained from the United States Department of Justice, Illinois State Police, and Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, indicate that crime rates in both Rockford and Winnebago County have dropped since 1996.

In 1996, Winnebago County’s crime rate was 7,686. Winnebago County’s lowest crime index offense rate of 6,357 was in 2000. Winnebago County’s highest crime index offense rate of 8,307 was in 1993. Records on crime index offense rates, from the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority’s web site date back to 1993.

Logli’s statement that there has been a recent increase in the crime index offense rate is true if considering crime index offense rates from 2000 and 2001. However, both Winnebago County and Rockford achieved their lowest crime index offense rates on record, in the year 2000. Therefore, it would not be unusual to observe an increase in the crime index offense rate in a subsequent year, due to natural variations. Hazlett agrees with this assessment.

Yet, Winnebago County’s crime rate of 6,619 for 2001 was the highest in the entire state.

Other possible causal factors for the increase in the number of inmates housed in the county jail, and the recent increase in crime index offense rates, were offered by Rockford Mayor Doug Scott.

In an interview with The Rock River Times on October 18th, Scott shared his thoughts on why the crime rate and inmate population of the county jail have recently increased. He mainly attributed the increase to tough economic times. Scott was responding to a series of questions regarding his support for the referendum. Said Scott, “Go look it up. Tough economic times leads to higher crime. It’s a major factor (economic decline, as a contributor to the increased crime rate).”

In contradiction, Hazlett says, “Downturns in the economy and unemployment do not translate into higher crime. Economic growth produces targets. Therefore, an economic upturn will more likely increase the crime rate due to an increase in targets.”

Data from the crime rates table in this article supports Hazlett’s statement in all seven municipalities that were examined (four are shown here). As the economy declined in the late 1990s, the crime rate also declined.

Peoria and Rockford share similar crime index offense rates, for each year from 1996 to 2001. In addition, the counties in which they reside have similar crime index offense rates. The Rockford and Peoria areas share similar jail overcrowding problems, even though Peoria County added 144 beds to their facility in August, 1999.

Research and interviews suggest that the true cause of Winnebago County’s jail overcrowding and the recent increase in the crime rate are unexplained by public officials.

Again, a plausible explanation for the recent increase in the crime rates from 2000 to 2001 is more likely due to a natural variation, rather than an alarmingly large increase in the crime rate. Regarding the steady increase in the average daily population of the Winnebago County jail since 1995, recent testimony at a state hearing held here suggested that the increase may be due to immigration of people into Winnebago County due to our social services, homeless shelters, affordable housing and references from outside agencies.

However, Hazlett points out that a more likely explanation for the increase in jail

population is a shift in policies towards drug enforcement combined with an inefficient and ineffective criminal justice system.

Relocation of criminals?

At the September 30th meeting at Rockford City Hall, Alderman Victory Bell (D-5) challenged Logli’s view that the recent increase in the crime rate in Winnebago County was due to having to release criminals back onto the streets because of a lack of jail space to house inmates. Bell suggested that the increased crime rate might be due to an influx of criminals from other areas, such as Chicago. Logli countered, saying, “I don’t think people from other cities represent our problem.”

In the October 2nd edition of The Rock River Times the article entitled, “Logli tries to sell jail idea to city,” reads, “Under the administration of Charles Box and Rockford Housing Authority Executive Director Gary Verni-Lau, the RHA advertised in the Chicago papers for residents.”

And according to testimony at the state legislative hearing on affordable housing, held at the Rockford Public Library on October 16th, Lewis Jordan, the new executive director of the RHA, stated that it is the goal of the RHA to achieve 97 to 100 percent occupancy rate.

Our October 2nd article continued, “The Chicago Housing Authority closed many of its complexes, including Cabrini-Green complex, and now offers vouchers which can be honored in any city in the region.” The Rockford Housing Authority has a similar plan for voucher usage.

Hazlett points out that 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, combine to make an area very attractive to parolees and criminals.

The article goes on, “Various sources have reported that Rockford’s Orton Keyes is the new home for many Chicago residents, some of them gang members. Those same sources say that Rockford is in the midst of a gang war, and that is a major contributing factor in Rockford having the highest crime rate in the state.” Further research reveals that the crime index offense rate shows that Rockford has been at or near the top in state crime rates for at least 15 years.

Again, Winnebago County’s 2001 crime rate is down from all its rates throughout the 1990s, but the average daily population of the Winnebago County Jail remained about the same during the first half of the 1990s but has steadily risen since 1995. Logli says the reason for the steady rise in the average daily jail population is because the public is tired of crime.

In contradiction, an estimated 80 percent of the jail population is awaiting trial—that equals a backlog in the courts.

Affordable Housing Hearing &

relocation to local social services

The state legislative hearing on affordable housing at the library on October 16th, was chaired by State Representative Chuck Jefferson (D-67). Testimony revealed that Rockford has become a magnet for poor, undereducated and homeless from as far away as Seattle; some have criminal backgrounds.

During the hearing, several witnesses revealed that their social service agencies have been “overwhelmed with individuals and families seeking affordable housing from Chicago and surrounding cities,” as Executive Director for the Shelter Care Ministries, Jered Pruit described Rockford’s situation, “This mass migration has led to significant increases over the past several years in people seeking housing or support services,” says Pruit.

Parolee immigration to Rockford

Jennifer Jaeger, who also testified at the hearing, is the City of Rockford’s Community Services director.

Jaeger delivered the most startling testimony, saying, “We have an inordinately large number of parolees in our community. Recent numbers from the (Illinois) Department of Corrections show approximately 900 parolees are released to this community. Many of these individuals end up on shelter doorsteps.”

Reportedly, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) discourages former inmates from returning to the community from which they came. However, Hazlett states that 93 percent of all prison inmates in Illinois do return to their communities.

Data from the IDOC indicate that since fiscal year 1999, there has been a steady growth in the number of convicted criminals paroled into Winnebago County. However, that influx has been nearly identical to the number of convicted criminals being sent to IDOC from Winnebago County (see tables below).

According to Brian Fairchild of IDOC, the actual number of parolees sent to Winnebago County in fiscal year 2002 (ending June 30) was 787, not the 900 cited by Jaeger. Jaeger received her information in a meeting with another IDOC official. Is that information more current?

In addition, for the same fiscal year, 2002, the number of convicted criminals sent to the Dept. of Corrections from Winnebago County was 837.

Further research indicates that 10 out of 11 northern Illinois counties, show large increases in the numbers of parolees released into their respective counties, for the last four years. The counties that had increases are Boone, Cook, Carroll, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Ogle, Will and Winnebago. In addition, there was a corresponding increase in the numbers of convicted criminals sent to IDOC from each of the previously mentioned counties.

Hazlett says, “The influx of people may contribute to higher crime rates,” if the influx are males between 10 and 30 years of age. According to Hazlett, this population is more likely to commit violent and property crimes.

Jaeger adds, “Every year for the last three years, our homeless community has grown. What began as a population of a few hundred four years ago, was over 800 as of the last count.” However, as Pruit has been quick to point out, being homeless, or to need affordable housing or social services, isn’t criminal behavior.

However, testimony at the legislative hearing by Laeticia Escamilla, the director of the Rock River Red Cross Shelter, indicates that criminals, sex offenders, and parolees regularly use the Red Cross shelter. Escamilla’s testimony corroborates Pruit’s testimony that people from outside Rockford are seeking our high-quality social services and homeless shelters. Escamilla estimates that 40 percent of the approximately 800 people per year the Red Cross shelter serves are “outsiders.”

The largest homeless shelter in the area is the Rockford Rescue Mission or Hope Place at 715 W. State St., which did not testify at the hearing. Opponents to the over-densification of social services downtown, call Hope Place the “Taj Mahal” of homeless shelters.

Again, the question regarding the true cause of the recent increase in the crime rate is likely due to natural variations. But community leaders have yet to convincingly address this question.

More importantly, considering Winnebago County’s general downward trend in the crime rates since 1992, and the annual growth in numbers of people sent to IDOC, combined with the influx of parolees from IDOC, why the rise in the average daily population of the Winnebago County Jail, since 1995?

Jail population

In 1990, the average daily population of the Winnebago County Jail was approximately 350 per day. Today’s capacity is 393. The average daily population of the county jail remained at that level until 1995. After 1995, the average daily population of inmates increased from 1995’s approximate 365 to about 570 in 2002.

The phenomenon of jails being over capacity is not unique to Winnebago County. Data from Illinois counties of Peoria, Madison, Cook, and St. Clair all show similar problems—capacity is increased through construction, and the jails fill up to capacity soon after.

The causes for this construction-overcrowding phenomenon are many. Hazlett says one of the primary causes for jail overcrowding is the federal and state governments’ ineffective drug enforcement policies.

According to Hazlett, drug dealers and users are easily apprehended and placed into jails. Once there, the bonds for these offenses are very high, which prevents most of these prisoners from bonding out of jail until they get a trial.

Another primary factor that contributes to overcrowding is the number of continuances that are filed by both sides involved in the criminal process. A continuance is a request for a delay in the criminal process upon which both sides, the state and the defendant, have to agree. Continuances slow down the justice system and prevent a speedy trial, says Hazlett.

The result of long stays in prison and jail is that people get used to having all their needs met by someone else. Says Hazlett, “The longer you keep people in jail, the better chance they will become wards of the state.” Hazlett reports that many who have previously spent long periods of time in prison or jail actually break laws, upon release, in order to get back into the penal system.

Some of the solutions to jail overcrowding which Hazlett suggests are community supervision, increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system, and changes in drug enforcement policies.

In reference to community supervision, Hazlett says, “I would much rather have someone living next to me under community supervision than someone who had just been released from a long stint in jail or prison. However, that would require more parole and probation officers, and that takes money. But it’s still significantly less than building, staffing and maintaining a jail.”

However, more parole and probation officers are required for larger populations, and the existing parole and probation officers have huge case loads and are poorly paid.

Peoria County Jail Supervisor Steve Smith estimates that he could house 20 percent of his average daily jail population in dormitory-type housing. According to Smith, this jail housing alternative is less expensive than a full-scale jail. In regard to increasing jail capacity, Smith says, “If there’s space, they will fill it.”

Again, Hazlett states, “We do not have sophistication to predict future criminal activity and crime rates.” Therefore, no one knows what size any jail or prison should be to adequately serve a community 20 years hence. “The best way to predict future jail population is to build it, says Hazlett.

Criminal justice–industrial complex

During U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s 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 military–industrial complex.

Similarly, it would appear that there is an emerging complex—call it the criminal justice–industrial 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.

The proposed jail on the “public safety” referendum before Winnebago County voters on November 5th appears to be part of the emerging criminal justice–industrial complex. As Hazlett says about jail construction, “It’s a growth industry.”

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!