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Long lockdown hours continue at Ill. jail

The time inmates spend on lockdown spiked after 10 corrections officers were laid off Oct. 26

By Kevin Haas
Rockford Register Star, Ill.

ROCKFORD, Ill. — Inmates at the Winnebago County Jail endured long hours on lockdown again in December, the second straight month they spent more than 1,900 hours combined confined to 13 1/2-by-7 1/2-foot cement cells.

The time inmates spend on lockdown — when they're kept in two-person cells rather than in a common area shared by 64 inmates — spiked after 10 corrections officers were laid off Oct. 26 as part of Sheriff Gary Caruana's plan to manage a $4.3 million budget cut. The 1,905 hours on lockdown in December is more than three times higher than the average over the rest of 2017, not including the high of 1,968 in November.

The long lockdown hours have frustrated inmates and corrections officers alike. Both say it fosters a dangerous environment. Inmates have also said the long hours can be mentally agonizing and have called it a violation of their human rights.

Jail Superintendent Bob Redmond said there had been two significant fights in the past week, including one that required an inmate to be taken to the hospital. He and corrections officers have said lockdowns agitate inmates and can lead to more altercations.

"The frustration level on both ends of it, with the inmates and the officers, is still pretty high," Redmond said.

Caruana worries that the situation could provoke a lawsuit and is pushing the County Board to restore $2.2 million to his budget so he can hire seven patrol officers, 29 corrections officers and six dispatchers. He's continued to fight to have cuts restored now more than three months after the budget was set. He'll have to persuade County Board members to amend their budget if he wants to make the hires. It promises to be a tough sell.

"I've got several questions that need to be answered before I would consider even looking at restoring that $2.2 million to the sheriff," said County Board member Dave Fiduccia, chairman of the County Board's Public Safety committee.

Fiduccia's committee would be one of Caruana's first stops as he asks for cuts to be restored. But Fiduccia wonders whether the sheriff has made the most efficient use of the staff he has and says Caruana will face other, similar questions from the committee when he presents his proposed amendment.

"I wish he would get to the job of trying to stick within that budget we gave him," Fiduccia said.

Fiduccia has been frustrated by what he sees as a split between the sheriff and County Board, describing it as a "them against us attitude."

"We're going to try everything possible as much as we can," Fiduccia said. "We're not against (the sheriff). It's just that if you don't have the money in your wallet, what are you going to do?"

The county has 150 corrections officers and 22 supervisors on staff at the jail, about 50 fewer officers and two fewer supervisors than 2008, the first full year in the current jail. Redmond said that if the sheriff can hire 29 corrections officers, which would be done incrementally over the course of the year, lockdowns would only be necessary for security reasons or searches and would no longer be routine.

In the meantime, the jail has adjusted transport times and hired back more officers on overtime to try to reduce lockdowns, Redmond said. But it has to be careful with its overtime budget, too.

In 2017, inmates spent more time on lockdown than any year since 2013, Winnebago County Jail records show. That was largely because of the spike in November and December. Before November, the longest combined lockdown hours were 1,610 in May 2013, a year the jail had roughly 150 more inmates inside each day than it does today.

Right now, inmates are spending 10 to 12 hours a day on lockdown, Caruana said, which can include time overnight.

©2018 Rockford Register Star, Ill.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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