Budget Amendment in Consideration amid Winnebago County Jail Inmate Lawsuit

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Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana says his office needs more money to staff the Winnebago County Jail, in order to prevent inmates from having to go on lockdown.  It’s a $2 million dollar proposal the County Board is now considering.

“It’s becoming apparent this is too deep,” said Caruana.

A $4.3 million budget cut is causing a domino effect on the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. More than a dozen inmates are part of a lawsuit and are claiming there have been an excessive number of lockdowns at the jail.  Sheriff Caruana says the lockdowns are necessary because he had to lay off 10 corrections officers in October.

“To keep our environment safe, that’s what I’m charged with,” said Sheriff Caruana.  He says since he has fewer deputies, he has to get creative with the staff he has, whether it’s pulling them out of the jail to transfer inmates, going to and from the court house, or even pulling them off the streets.  It’s a situation some Winnebago County Board Members like Eli Nicolosi says is unacceptable.

“We know the Sheriff is working with us and he’s willing to make some cuts,” said Nicolosi.  “We would rather approach this with a gradual approach, so we can make more sense.”

“That’s why I’m working so hard to try to do a budget amendment to get some of these monies restored,” said Sheriff Caruana.  “We’re trying to come back and give them relief by adding more overtime, and that’s going to add costs.”

This gradual approach starts with a plan to restore $1.8 million to the Sheriff’s office.  However, there are still fiscal concerns.

“We try to run it with the least amount of overtime,” said Sheriff Caruana. “Not saying that we haven’t, but then it adds to the scenario of the lockdowns. We’re saving money in an effort to make it that $4.3 [million], but it’s impossible.”

However, Nicolosi says that plan has mixed reviews with his fellow board members.

“Right now, I think a lot of board members are holding it close to the vest,” said Nicolosi.

The budget amendment is set to be discussed at the next board meeting.

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