By RICK HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — Jefferson County Board Chairman Robert White is lobbying state officials to consider the Jefferson County Justice Center as a facility to reduce overcrowding and safety issues in state prisons.
“We’ve got a huge state-of-the-art facility and 150 vacant beds. It makes me think, ‘What do you do with that? You’ve got to do something with it.’ There’s been a lot of fighting, yelling and bickering concerning the building of the place (jail), and fighting continued after it was built that it shouldn’t have been built. The reality is that it’s a 250-bed facility and we only have an average of 80 of our own detainees,” White said during Monday’s County Board meeting.
In thinking about a viable candidate to help fill the beds, White has proposed the state should consider incarcerating prisoners locally.
“We’ve had overcrowding issues at these facilities, even before we decided to shut any of them down,” he said. “You’ve got major safety issues going on in these facilities. Any of you who know any correctional officers at Big Muddy have heard these stories. The next logical question is where do these people go? The answer is 12,000 convicted criminals get early release because of the state’s inability to balance the budget and their revenues.”
White said the state has a recidivism rate of 77 percent. Recividism is the term used for criminals who recommit crimes and end back up in jail. Using that rate, White said there’s a good chance if 12,000 convicts are released, there’s a possibility 8,000 of them will find their way back to jail.
“All the counties are going to be taking these people into custody remanding for charge. The county has to incarcerate these people while they wait for trial … we’re going to tax the system of our county governments,” White said.
He added, “I would think it would make sense for the state of Illinois to engage with counties, utilize us in an overflow capacity for safety purposes, maybe for protective custody situations. The rate we would charge would be not significant, but lower than what it would cost to house them in state prisons.”
White said there is a way for this proposal to work that is financially beneficial for the state and county government.
“The challenge is if we’re going to get sacked financially by the state of Illinois for this initiative, that’s the first and foremost motivation to encourage them to looking at facilities such as ours as an overflow. We can not continue to reprocess these people over, over and over again,” he concluded.
White said he has reached out to the Department of Corrections and to the governor’s office to suggest the proposal with no response. He has also contacted state legislators to get on board.
“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” White said. “At some point, I have to advocate for the people of Jefferson County on both sides of this issue — the recidivism rate as well as 150 empty beds.”
In a related manner, White said the county is also encouraging lawmakers to address medial-related expenses for county prisoners.
“We had the $180,000 medical expense recently that you can’t possible plan for in budgeting. I think the state of Illinois needs to address that on behalf of the counties. It doesn’t need to be borne on the taxpayers of this county. It’s not fair and it’s not right,” he said.
IN OTHER BUSINESS:n No action was taken on a request from Meagan Carnine, an employee of the Public Defender’s office, to have seniority reinstated.
n White announced the county has reached an agreement with the City of Salem to consolidate services of the Animal Shelter.
n Information was presented concerning the vacancy that will be created with the retirement of Supervisor of Assessment Steve Lueker, effective Dec. 7.