Rockford’s new parolee database could be model for state

August 5, 2013

Patrick Smith

(Flickr/STEELEMAN204)
A Rockford police car drives in a Memorial Day parade in May. Rockford is implementing a new parolee database to better track ex-offenders.

Updated 8.7.13

The Rockford Police Department is working with the state of Illinois to develop a new way to keep track of people on parole and prepare reentry services for the ex-offenders.

Officials say if it works, it could serve as a model for the rest of the state.

The northwest suburb will use a $400,000 grant from the federal government to build a parolee database that will be the first of its kind in Illinois.

The new database will inform local authorities when a parolee from the Illinois Department of Corrections is settling in their area.

It will also include information on each parolee, like known addictions or potential homelessness.

Rockford applied for the grant through the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Authority spokeswoman Cristin Evans wrote in an email that the grant will help Rockford arrange for reentry services for parolees with local providers before they arrive in Rockford.

“American Reinvestment and Recovery Justice Assistance Grants, provided to Illinois by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), were used to support this project. Offender community re-entry is a BJA priority, data exchange projects/collaboration is a BJA priority, and [the] Rockford Police Department [is] replicating a proven model used in Racine, Wisconsin.,” Evans wrote.

Police Chief Chet Epperson said people on probation and parole account for 12 to 15 percent of weekly arrests.

Tom Shaer, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said his department is working closely with Rockford to develop an infrastructure for data sharing.

“Just as consumer information sharing has evolved and rapidly improved, so too can public servants improve their sharing of information,” Shaer said.

Shaer said this kind of database is something the state “definitely” wants to expand statewide. And he said Rockford will be a test for that potential expansion.

“What better way to share data than for these purposes?” Shaer asked. “The more information that is shared, and the quicker it is shared is better for everyone.”

The new database could address what Rockford officials say is a flaw in the current system: that they sometimes aren’t told about ex-offenders until a month or two after they arrive in the city.

But Shaer said that isn't true, and that the department always notifies local police before parolees are released.

“It’s not that it’s bad now or broken now, but if you can make it better, why not do that?” Shaer said of IDOC’s notification system.

According to Evans, the project will be completed before Sept. 30.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ reporter. Follow him on Twitter @pksmid