(This is the first of a series of about 10 posts. Each is a “chapter” from the “Building a Safe Community” project I did for Winnebago County. Some basics that always come up: I spent about 75 hours in one-on-one interviews and another 35 in research and writing. The county paid me $100 an hour. I did not discuss this project with the county until July 2011; I left the newspaper in May. I am not a statistician. I am a journalist. This report reflects my reporting, my analysis and my observations. Any mistakes or misinterpretations are mine.)
This is how the project began:
In July 2011, I took on the project of “putting words around the statistics” in the University of Illinois’ evidence-based study of Winnebago County’s alternative-to-incarceration programs.
Those words will help county officials explain the programs to local, state and national decision makers and grant funders. Hopefully, they will help our community understand better the groundbreaking models Winnebago County and the 17th Judicial Circuit Court are putting in place.
I accepted the project with two caveats: First, I knew little about the programs and less about national best practices and trends. I would need open access to the people in the programs, running the programs and shaping the decisions about the programs. And, second, I was not interested in creating a marketing or public relations piece for the criminal justice system, the alternative programs or the Resource Intervention Center.
Administrator of Human Resources Dave Peterson, who reports to County Board Chair Scott Christiansen, agreed to both.
I began my research in August, first exploring national trends and research. I spent a week at the Resource Intervention Center interviewing staff and clients. I reviewed the University of Illinois statistical analysis and I sought out decision-makers in the community. Interviews were done “background only,” meaning I would use their words and insights, but I would not quote them directly. Doing so allowed us to talk about confidential subjects.
I am not a statistician. I am a journalist. I followed the Winnebago County criminal justice system for two decades. As executive editor of the Rockford Register Star and a member of its Editorial Board, I had unparalleled access to the decision makers who shape law enforcement and criminal justice in this county. I was there when the board was persuaded to support the one-cent public safety sales tax. That is a decision I do not regret.
I know the politics, conflicts and challenges within the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. There are honest differences of opinions about the appropriate solutions to a too-high crime rate and the fear-filled community.
I am predisposed to believe in alternative programs. I do not believe there are “throwaway people.” I do believe in second – and third, and fourth – chances. Believing is not enough. I needed proof these programs work. I needed the statistics and the primary source interviewing that would support or disprove my beliefs.
After months of research, I know I am right to believe. The Resource Intervention Center, the in-jail programs, the specialty courts, and yes, the “get ‘em off the streets” sweeps and “get tough” prosecutions can work successfully together to create a model criminal justice system in Winnebago County that turns “those people” into “us.”
Following is a non-comprehensive list of primary source material and interviews that contributed to this report. I am grateful to them for their time, insights and recommendations for additional interviews and research:
Janet Holmgren, former chief judge of the 17th Circuit Court
Delayne Hogan, deputy director, Resource Intervention Center
Perry Weatherford, supervisor, Resource Intervention Center
Kathy Heiser, literacy coordinator
Diana Barthelman, director of adult education and literacy, Rock Valley College
Marietta Chapple, partner abuse coordinator, Remedies
Karen Gill, vice president of operations, Remedies
Alfred Turner, substance abuse coordinator, Remedies
Ruthie Fairchild, director of prisoner and family ministry, Lutheran Social Services
Christy Morris, licensed clinical social worker
Steven Salvato, adult probation officer
Shan Johnson, adult probation officer
Tasha Petre, probation officer
Joe Bruscato, Winnebago County State’s Attorney
Judge Joe McGraw, chief judge of the 17th Circuit Court
Dan Cain, defense attorney
Katherine Zenoff, justice, Illinois Appellate Court
Chuck Sweeney, senior editor, Rockford Register Star
Joel Cowen, former director of research, University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Rockford
The clients at the Resource Intervention Center
Various unnamed individuals for their context, history and insights
A selection of Primary Source Research:
“State of Recidivism, the revolving door of America’s prisons.” Pew Center on the States; a public safety performance project funded by the Pew Foundation. April 2011.
“Winnebago County Alternatives to Incarceration Update.” Penny S. Billman, Ph.D.’ Sherry Falsetti, Ph.D. September 2010.
“Winnebago County Alternatives Programs: Annual Summary report” for year-ending Nov. 30, 2010. University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Rockford.
“Center of Excellence Project, intergovernmental cooperation act research.” Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. July 2011.
“Center for Behavioral Health Services & Criminal Justice Research.” Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Multiple studies: evidence-based research, problem-solving courts, re-entry readiness and the revolving prison door; crisis intervention team; mental health courts; drug courts; critical time intervention; assertive community treatment.
Rockford Register Star and rrstar.com. Online news archives. With sincere respect and gratitude to the Register Star for maintaining for more than 150 years the only comprehensive “community and institutional memory” in the Rock River Valley.
These are the chapters to come:
2. Executive summary: My ten conclusions and observations from the report
3. An overview: Among the dissonance, agreement
4. The past 40 years: Changes on the national level
5. Winnebago County criminal justice system: From command-and-control to wrap-around-services
6. Crime in Winnebago County
7. The impact of the one-cent public safety sales tax
8. Alternative to incarceration: Better results. Lower costs
9. The Resource Intervention Center: A 21st century model
10. A week at the RIC