Visit to Winnebago County Jail could lead to arrest

Chris Green

Want to visit someone in the Winnebago County Jail?

Be warned: If you don’t have a clean record, you may find yourself sitting in a cell next to the person you planned to visit.

It’s been a long-standing practice for correction officers and sheriff’s deputies to check a jail visitor’s driver’s license or state identification card.

“At the old jail, it was done manually,” Winnebago County Jail Superintendent Andrea Tack said Wednesday. “Here, with the new jail management system, the minute you enter their name and driver’s license number, the system automatically runs it through LEADS.”

LEADS, or Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, is a statewide database maintained by the Illinois State Police. Participating law enforcement agencies enter information pertaining to stolen property, missing persons or runaway reports, officer safety information and people wanted on warrants.

A sheriff’s deputy said as many as six arrests were made in one night this week.

While no records are kept tracking how many visitors are found to be wanted on warrants, corrections Lt. Dee Neal praised the new software. “It really works. We do catch a lot of people through that system.”

Software for the new jail management system, an automated computer program, was brought online June 30 when the jail began housing inmates.

A more visible change has been the elimination of face-to-face visits with inmates. Instead, visitors gather in a first-floor visitation room and are seated in one of 60 booths in front of a video screen. The inmate, who is also seated in front of a video screen in his or her pod, can see and talk with his or her visitor.

Some visitors never make it to a visitation booth thanks to the instant search of the LEADS database. If they are wanted, they are detained, arrested and booked.

An average of 100 people wanted on warrants are booked into the jail each week, Tack said.

 But it’s unknown how many of those arrests are of unsuspecting visitors at the jail.

“It’s not a marked increase,” Tack said comparing the number of visitors arrested each week at the old and new jail.

But, she said, “If there were folks before who were overlooked, they aren’t now.”

Staff writer Chris Green can be reached at 815-987-1241 or cgreen@rrstar.com.

By the numbers

The Criminal Justice Center contains:

600,000 square feet of building space on 9 acres

1,212 beds

661 current population

4 courtrooms

3,150 doors

500 cameras

849 toilets

3,500 locks

10 elevators

1,600 intercoms

692 precast cells weighing 2.5 tons each

Source: Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department