ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. - As many as 50 criminals at the St. Clair County Jail are being put back on the streets every week because of jail overcrowding. Now Sheriff Rick Watson is asking taxpayers to foot the bill for a $37 million expansion.
"Our capacity is 418. We're right around 550 today," said Watson.
"They got people sleeping on the tables, on the floor, in the gym, next to the toilet. It ain't nowhere you want to be," said former inmate Brandon Baker.
That's why Watson wants voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase. He says it'll raise around $5 million per year to help add space to the aging jail. Watson wants to avoid the federal government coming in and forcing the county to build a brand new and more expensive jail at the cost of property owners.
"There's no doubt about it that it will eventually happen. This quarter-cent sales tax is the way to go. It's the fair way to go so people don't get saddled with a bigger piece based on the kind of property they own," he said.
But not everyone sees it that way.
"Many of us who shop here are not from St. Clair County. In effect, we're paying for something that we don't benefit from," said Madison County resident Cheryl Stockton.
"If we're paying it here at OfficeMax or on our property tax bill, it's still the same," said St. Clair County resident Roger Miesner.
Others say the bigger problem is with the justice system itself.
"I feel like if they release all the people they're holding here for petty stuff they won't need to expand the jail," said Baker.
"I would be ok with some type of extra funding provided that some of the misdemeanor charges, people with less serious crimes, would get some kind of counseling," said Phyllis Miesner.
Sheriff Watson says the criminals that are being released are typically non-violent people who are accused of lesser crimes.
The tax increase will be on the March 18 ballot.