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Is it the ‘Jim Rowe factor’?

November 19, 2018

KANKAKEE — While Kankakee County officials puzzle over the big increase in the number of local inmates, one attributes it to the “Jim Rowe factor,” referring to the state’s attorney.

During a County Board committee meeting this week, board chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, questioned why the number of jail inmates has spiked to 270 per day on average, from 220 (excluding out-of-county inmates).

“That’s not free. It puts a strain on staffing and finances,” Wheeler said.

He said he expected the opposite to happen this year with the new sentencing law — known as the Bail Reform Act — which took effect Jan. 1. The law, among other things, promotes the release of defendants without requiring bail if they are not considered a threat to others and are unlikely to flee the community.

Wheeler said the county wasn’t seeking leniency for suspects, but wanted to know the reasons for the increase in inmates.

“Has their behavior shifted? Are we continually picking up and releasing, picking up and releasing? Is this part of a circle?” he asked.

He was posing his queries to Assistant State’s Attorney Marlow Jones, chief of the criminal division, during the County Board’s Criminal Justice Committee meeting.

Jones said he would refer Wheeler’s concerns to State’s Attorney Rowe, who took office in December 2016. But Jones said the office was trying to reduce the numbers going to jail by diverting them to programs such as community service.

In some cases, though, the office’s hands are tied.

“If a person is driving on a suspended license a certain number of times and they are convicted again, it’s a mandatory 180 days (in jail). There’s nothing we can do, other than not charge the person,” Jones said.

Later in the meeting, Ken McCabe, sheriff’s chief deputy, believed he had the answer, though he acknowledged he had no data to back it up.

“What I believe is happening is that people are actually getting charged now,” he said. “It’s a Jim Rowe factor. Criminals are getting charged like they should be. Marlow, Jim and his staff are kicking butt and taking names.”

McCabe said most of the additional people in the lockup have committed felonies that are not subject to the new guidelines.

“(Prosecutors) are doing their job and doing it well, and that makes everyone in this room and in Kankakee County safer,” McCabe said.

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