Commit a crime, go to jail. That's a pattern one group of Rockford community members are trying to break, as they presented a few alternatives to jail time to Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato.
"Some years ago, I had a friend who went through the justice system and I watched it all happen. And I'm just fascinated by how we handle people who don't fit our laws and our standards," says Ellen Ahmer.
When Ahmer's friend got out of jail, he had nowhere to turn. "He was not welcomed. No, he was not welcomed," she says.
Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato says, the first few months after being released can often be the hardest. These men and women struggle to find jobs, pay for housing, and find support.
"Without community support and the right types of support, their success rate is going to be very minimal, and they become very likely that they're going to commit further offenses," says Bruscato.
Right now, there are just over 900 people inside the Winnebago County jail. And finding ways to reduce that number is the topic of discussion at a community meeting here at United Methodist Church in Rockford.
Stanley Campbell, with Rockford Urban Ministries, says, "The alternatives to incarceration mean that people get a second chance to try and change their lives. And I believe that that'll improve the situation in the jail, with less people being put there and better for the community to try and help those folks change their lives without expending the resources of incarceration."
These alternatives might someday include something called 'deferred prosecution,' an up-and-coming program in Winnebago County where offenders could go through rigorous rehabilitation in exchange for a clean slate, and no jail time.
And for those already in jail, Bruscato says, "Right now we're working on programs for prisoner re-entry, individuals who've been convicted, sent to prison, and now they're leaving prison and re-entering society, we have to have organizes, structured programs for those people so that they can be successful in their re-entry into our community."
One idea is to create a program where inmates can sit down with a mentor to form a life plan shortly before re-entry.
If you want to get involved, the State's Attorney's Office is still accepting applications for the deferred prosecution citizen's panel. If you want more information, leave a message at the Winnebago County State's Attorney's office, 815-319-4700.
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