Winnebago County Jail inmates need humane housing

Winnebago County Jail inmates need humane housing

By Stanley Campbell

Winnebago County Jail

inmates need humane housing

I visited the Winnebago County Jail. It’s not a pretty place. It’s cleaner than I thought it would be and more secure, and the employees are very professional.

But in the nooks and crannies, you see people sleeping on warn-out, tattered mattresses placed on the floor.

Officer “Steve” showed us around. We were a church group of 12 and had set up this tour a month ago for Rockford Urban Ministries.

The officer trains the staff, who watch anywhere from 340 to upwards of 700 inmates who require varying degrees of security. They come in different shades of personality and mental clarity. Some are downright stark, raving crazy.

And the staff? They average 24 per shift. They’re nice folks, mainly. Officer Steve says it’s hard to keep one’s faith in humanity, and the jail facility doesn’t help. It’s dehumanizing from the initial strip-and-body-cavity search to getting put into a cage with two to four strangers within a bigger cage of up to 40 rather angry prisoners. It can get a little “close.”

Showers are available with all the soap you want. Shampoo is a luxury. Towels are thin and short. The system is overworked. Laundry, kitchen and toilets were built to handle half as many inmates.

The amenities that might improve the quality of an inmate’s life, such as counseling, spiritual direction and education, are all delivered (if at all) by volunteers or staff overworked and underappreciated, in space too small for the numbers who flock to the few possibilities for improvement.

But gang membership and recruitment are increased by exposure to our jail, and I’m sure that tricks of the criminal trade are exchanged.

Rockford Urban Ministries will attempt to address the problem of the overcrowded jail at our meeting at 7 p.m., Jan. 31, at Second Congregational Church. Sheriff Meyers will share some information with us, and we will discuss possible solutions, such as reorganization and programming or construction, or a combination of both. Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn will also speak to the group. We hope you can attend.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Minsitries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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