Let Criminals Help Pay for their Incarceration

By Michael Kleen

Back in July 2003, Winnebago County levied a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a brand-new, $142 million jail, which opened in 2007. Today, that jail is overflowing with prisoners, and local politicians are looking to spend an unexpected increase in tax revenue on hiring more guards. I believe that levying a county sales tax to pay for a new jail was a mistake from the onset, and that we need to find an alternative means of funding the jail while reducing its overall cost.

Winnebago County remains one of the worst counties in the state in terms of crime rate, and the county’s solution to this problem has been to simply lock criminals up and throw away the key. In this endeavor, our new jail has been a success. Crime in Winnebago County dropped 15 percent from 2008 to 2009, and according to Sheriff Dick Meyers, unincorporated Winnebago County saw a 20.9 percent reduction in crime over the past several years. At the same time, the average daily population in the jail has climbed more than 27.8 percent.

This is a very expensive way of reducing crime, one that will cost the county millions of dollars to sustain over the long term. Furthermore, a larger jail filled with more prisoners fails to address the root causes of crime, which means we will need to continue to fill the jail to keep crime rates down.

Read the entire column at the Rock River Times!

About Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and freelance columnist. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He lives in Rockford, Illinois, where he was the 2013 Republican candidate for mayor.

Posted on January 4, 2012, in Columns and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Just out of curiosity more than anything, what would you propose doing with criminals if they are not put in jail? The ones who are not likely to be violent are already being work released or on electronic detention. Many are run thru the so called drug court, which appears to mostly amount to shuffling them back out on the street.

    I seriously doubt there is anyway to get any significant amount of money out of most of these criminals to pay for their own incarceration. Most of them just do not have the money to take, so it is a “blood from a turnip” situation in most cases.

    I was not in favor of the tax in the first place, but it is now in place and killing it is going to be very hard. Perhaps the money from tipping fees would be better used to pay for this than for college scholarships for the children of the connected.

  2. Bob, thank you for your comments. I’ll try to address your question, but I cannot answer it directly because at no time did I suggest that criminals should not be put in jail. The ideas I presented at the end of my column were just a few suggestions on how to make up for the budget shortfall if we eliminate (or phase out) the sales tax. I realize they would not make up for 100 percent of the shortfall. The purpose of my column was to get people thinking about 1) How sales taxes hurt the economy and 2) How we might find alternative ways to fund the jail that would take the burden off the shoulders of consumers.

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