Ground Is Broken for New Jail

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After two years of planning and budgeting, ground is broken for the new Winnebago County Justice Center Tuesday. Community leaders say this is one more step toward a safer community.

With the thrust of a shovel, the long-awaited building process begins, and by spring of 2007, Rockford's downtown will be transformed by a new 600,000 square foot criminal justice facility; one that city and county leaders say was long overdue.

"A criminal justice system struggling like the one in Winnebago County is not in the best interest of public safety. Something had to be done," says Sheriff Dick Meyers.

Thanks to a one-cent sales tax increase approved by voters, a 988 bed facility will replace the old, crowded jail; more courtrooms and offices will be added, and $2 million will go towards the expansion of rehabilitation programs to stop the revolving door for many inmates.

"One of largest single problems in the jail, besides chemical abuse, is illiteracy. We'll help people learn to read and write and get them into the workforce and out of that cycle and hopefully they won't come back to jail," says Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli.

The original price tag for the project was $115 million, but already that's jumped to $126 million, raising eyebrows about just how much more it may grow.

"We've had major increases in products like steel and concrete. All in all, the original estimates were done way early, before the design, but now with design complete these estimates should be much closer," says Winnebago County board chair, Scott Christiansen.

The jail's foundation is scheduled to be dug in December and construction will continue through the winter.