Prisoners housed in
police van, hallway in Illinois

(LAKE COUNTY, Ill.) -- You probably won't find many corrections manuals that recommend housing prisoners in a police van like Fox Lake police did this weekend.

But the problem of housing prisoners throughout Lake County is growing these days, as crowding at Lake County jail in Waukegan threatens to backup into local police departments.

Although officials have been warning about overcrowding at the 597-bed facility for some time, this past weekend marked the first time in the jail's 11-year history that local police departments were told to hang onto their prisoners because there were no beds available, jail Director Charles DeFilippo confirmed.

A few prisoners slept on mattresses on the floor, a violation of Illinois Department of Corrections procedures, he said.

The result in Fox Lake was obvious, according to Police Chief Ed Gerretsen, who said it's a dangerous situation when prisoners stack up in his 5,000-square-foot police station.

"We had to stack prisoners this weekend in the van and in the hallways while the prisoners waited for processing," he said. "It's an extremely dangerous situation for us."

With only four holding cells in the building, he said when six prisoners come in, they normally look to the county for help.

"Now, with the county shut down, I have no where else to take my prisoners," he said Wednesday. "I have four lock-ups. What happens if we have six prisoners?"

By Monday, a handful of beds had become available, but local police from Grayslake to Wauconda still appeared to be on alert Wednesday.

Law enforcement officials insist public safety has not been compromised, but they acknowledged that, to address the overcrowding, they've been forced to test the limits of "diversionary" programs, which refer to ways of keeping tabs on prisoners outside of jail.

"We work extremely closely with the chief judge to make sure that we're only holding the people we have to," Sheriff Gary Del Re said. "By that I mean keeping the bond amounts what they should be and maximizing diversionary pro-grams."

Lake County State's Attorney Michael J. Waller insists that doesn't mean his office is going easy on suspected criminals at bond hearings.

"What we do regularly is we review bonds of people who are in custody and who the jail believes can be placed somewhere else," he said. "It's a case-by-case review, but we're getting to the point where we're unable to find any."

The most recent crunch has put the spotlight on the Lake County board, which is grappling with proposals to either build a new jail or expand the current facility.

Gerretsen said Fox Lake will just have to work through the holding cell shortfall.

(iSyndicate; Chicago Daily Herald; Nov. 9, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

Back to previous page