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Will jail commission say, ‘No,’ or just, ‘Yes!’?

July 1, 1993

Will jail commission say, ‘No,’ or just, ‘Yes!’?

By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logl(R) and Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers(D) have said that the county must implement the Logli/Meyers jail plan that was pitched to voters last fall as a matter of “trust.”

The problem with this argument is that the alternatives to the Logli/Meyers jail plan were not given much coverage by the local media. Therefore, voters aren’t aware of the alternatives.

Community leaders gave us the impression the Winnebago County Crime and Public Safety Commission would represent a cross-section of citizens from the community that have differing views of how to address high crime rates and jail overcrowding in Winnebago County.

Instead, we have received a jail commission whose members overwhelmingly think similarly about the county’s jail plan and/or stand to gain directly or indirectly politically and/or economically by building a new, huge, expensive and unneeded county jail. However, the selections are a natural product of the seven community leaders who appointed the commission members.

Consider the appointment of Glen Turpoff to the commission. Turpoff was appointed by Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn (R). Turpoff is executive director of Northern Illinois Building Contractors’ Association. Turpoff’s association contributed $20,000 to Cohn’s campaign on June 6, 2002. The association publicly supported Logli and Meyers’ jail plan. The association has also contributed at least $12,850 to other local and state Republicans since 1996. It also contributed $5,000 to Rockford Mayor Doug Scott’s campaign on June 28, 2002.

Turpoff has personally contributed $1,400 to Republican state representatives Dave Syverson (R-34), who supported the Logli/Meyers jail plan, and Dave Winters’ (R-69) campaigns since 1995.

More evidence to support the idea that the commission is stacked with “yes” people is that at least one member of the commission did not just apply to serve, but was “encouraged” by two local judges and a Rockford alderman.

During an interview, the commission member, who has a “positive” view of the county’s current public safety plan, initially said she was “asked” to apply. A few moments later, the commission member said, “Asked isn’t the right word; I was encouraged to apply.”

These incidents call into question the process by which the commission members were appointed. It also raises questions as to why other applicants were rejected.

Respected members of the medical community and Ted Biondo, former school board member and well-known number cruncher, were rejected.

So what’s the problem? Twenty years from now, after about a half a billion of taxpayers’ dollars is spent, the gigantic jail will not reduce crime but will more likely increase it.

An April 7, 2002, article in the Chicago Sun-Times explains that “on the streets, many young gang members no longer know the laws of their gangs. They also may not know anything about their gang leaders.”

Jail and “prison, and not the streets, is considered ‘gang university’ where they [gang members] are expected to learn the rules and history of their organizations.”

Crime expert and former jail inspector Dr. Michael Hazlett from Western Illinois University echoed the Sun-Times’ assessment and explained that inmates are eventually released to the community with new criminal techniques and understanding.

Hazlett toured the current county jail and made recommendations that would likely be more effective and cheaper in achieving the county’s crime and public safety goals.

If the crime rate in Winnebago County does decline, it won’t be because of a bigger jail but because of a combination of economic, sociological and educational factors, not from locking up large numbers of people.

Leaders wish to lower the crime rate and jail overcrowding (read next week’s editorial by Jeff Havens, “County must examine alternatives to jail,” for information on jail overcrowding). The county’s plan is to spend 74 percent of the anticipated $23 million per year generated through a 1 percent increase in the local sales tax to build, staff and maintain a 976-bed jail in downtown Rockford.

The jail referendum that voters approved last November evolved from a federal lawsuit filed more than two years ago by attorneys Jeff Heckinger and Tom Greenwald on behalf of Winnebago County jail inmates, specifically Timothy Chatmon.

Partly in response to the lawsuit, the Winnebago County Justice System Master Planning Committee was formed, and meetings were held in 2001. One member of the Master Planning Committee was named to the County Crime and Public Safety Commission—Winnebago County Chief Judge Michael Morrison (R).

Community leaders and encouragement

Morrison is the only member of the Winnebago County Justice System Master Planning Committee who was named to the Winnebago County Crime and Public Safety Commission. He is a former chief judge in the 17th Judicial Circuit. He was appointed to the commission by fellow Circuit Judge and Republican Gerald Grubb. In addition, Morrison served on the original jail planning committee with Cohn. In 2002, Grubb donated $235 to Cohn’s unsuccessful effort for Illinois Secretary of State.

The other six community leaders who appointed the other 23 commission members were: Meyers, Cohn, Logli; Rockford Mayor Doug Scott (D), Loves Park Mayor Darryl Lindberg (R), and Machesney Park President Linda Vaughn (D).

According to Vaughn, the leaders selected the commission members based on their expertise in religion, neighborhood associations, businesses, educational institutions, social services, community development and finances.

Conspicuous by its absence is a member who is an expert in criminal justice. Vaughn defended the decision to not appoint someone who has a criminal justice background by saying no one applied.

However, a source said one applicant for the commission, with an academic background in criminal justice who was endorsed by the Winnebago County Health Department’s Violence Prevention Collaborative, was rejected by at least one of the community leaders.

Vaughn said she received three applications and appointed two people. None of the three applicants to Vaughn had academic training in criminal justice.

Alice Uphouse, who will be serving on the commission, was appointed by Meyers. Uphouse has a “positive” view of the county’s plan that Meyers helped sell to the public. Uphouse said she was “encouraged” to apply by Judge Grubb, fellow Circuit Judge Rosemary Collins (D), and Rockford Alderman Doug Mark (R-3).

During an interview, Uphouse initially said Grubb “asked” her, Collins and Mark to apply. Later Uphouse said, “Asked isn’t the right word; I was encouraged to apply.”

Mark said he did not recruit Uphouse to apply but told Uphouse she would be a “good person” for the commission, after learning of her desire to apply. Mark said he called Logli’s office to encourage Uphouse’s approval.

The question that citizens should be asking is, why wasn’t a crime expert such as Hazlett recruited? Were other commission members recruited and/or encouraged to apply because of their support for the county’s plan?

Meyers was asked how commission member Jeff Foote could be contacted. Meyers declined to give Foote’s telephone number for an interview, citing Foote’s privacy.

Citizens should demand that commission members be accessible to the press. Readers of this paper, taxpayers, and citizens have the right to know more about the members of this commission who will be recommending how to spend hundreds of millions of their tax dollars.

WNTA’s Chris Bowman said Foote is a frequent caller to his radio show (the Chris Bowman Show, 1330 AM). Bowman said Foote was an “enthusiastic” supporter of the Logli/Meyers jail plan.

Goldman’s original proposal was scaled back from 1,307 beds to 1,200 and eventually to 976, after citizens expressed concerns about the size of the planned jail at a series of public meetings, particularly after the meeting held with members of the minority community at Ellis School.

All of the community leaders who appointed the commission publicly supported the Logli/Meyers jail plan for a 976-bed jail. As a result of their support, community leaders have appointed commission members that overwhelmingly appear to think similarly.

The question that citizens should ask is if there is enough controversy and differences within the commission to yield creative and progressive recommendations that the county board will commit to implement.

‘Groupthink’

According to group experts David W. Johnson and Frank P. Johnson, who co-authored the highly utilized and acclaimed book, Joining Together: “Without controversy, group decisions may always be less than optimal. Controversy promotes high productivity, positive interpersonal relationships, psychological health and social competence.”

President Thomas Jefferson said, “Difference of opinion leads to inquiry, and inquiry to truth.” The concern about the commission is that they will acquire “groupthink.”

Groupthink, where members seek concurrence at the expense of effective group decision-making, has been shown to have led to the catastrophic escalation of the Vietnam War despite warnings from government intelligence experts and allies. It has also been documented that lack of controversy within groups of decision-makers led to the tragic flight of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

The recommendations the commission will make won’t be as dramatic as the escalation of the Vietnam War or the Challenger disaster. However, the likely results will be recommendations consistent with like-minded individuals who are devoid of effective and creative solutions to crime and jail overcrowding in Winnebago County.

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