A subcommittee to look at solutions to the overcrowding problem at the Madison County Jail was appointed Friday at the County Board’s Judiciary Committee, following a wide-ranging discussion on the problem.
One area of agreement was that a number of the agencies involved – specifically the Probation Department, State’s Attorney’s Office, and Public Defender’s Office – are understaffed.
Problems with overcrowding at the jail have been discussed at a number of levels and committees in county government.
According to figures provided by the Sheriff’s Department, on Aug. 31 there were 317 prisoners at the jail, which is certified to hold 312. Last month at one point the jail held a record 361 prisoners at one time.
The discussion started after Board Member Phil Chapman, R-Highland, talked about a memo he gave to members of the committee.
“We’re all tired of the problem coming back every month,” he said. “We need to get smart on this.”
He said overcrowding and general conditions at the jail create a number of problems, including increased lawsuits against the county. He also noted that “building a bigger jail is not an option.”
There has been a great deal of discussion on improvements to the jail, but those improvements do not include additional cell space.
“A new jail is a Chimera and will just cause bigger problems,” Chapman said.
Several officials noted that requests to increase staffing and budgets have been made to county administrators as part of the upcoming budgeting process for next year.
Among personnel issues noted was the cutting of 13 “high risk” probation officers to five in 2009.
“Cutting intensive probation was a major issue,” Board Member Mike Parkinson, D-Granite City, said.
State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said pre-trial monitoring of some misdemeanor drug-related cases could keep people from committing felonies.
As an example, he said many of the current drug users turn to retail theft. While the first conviction may be a misdemeanor, subsequent convictions become felonies.
Parking said in many cases “the true answer” is probation with supervised release and intense probation.
Public Defender John Rekowski noted that they need to move more cases.
“If you want to take care of the overcrowded jail, deal with the cases that put them there,” he said.
State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons noted that where federal prosecutors often have 20 cases, in his office it is common for attorneys to have 400.
“It’s a constant grind for them,” he said. “I lose a lot of good prosecutors due to stress.”
Rekowski also noted that increasing the staff for just one of them will do not good, because the public defenders need to have assistant state’s attorneys they can talk to about case.
After the discussion, Chairman Mike Walters, R-Godfrey, said they needed to move forward with the creation of the subcommittee. Committee members will include Walters, and Judiciary Committee members Parkinson, Chapman, Gussie Glasper and Chrissy Dutton.
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