A Look at the Kane County Sheriff’s Office under Ron Hain

A longer, more detailed version of this article was published in the Kane County Bar Association’s Jan/Feb 2021 Bar Briefs magazine. This version has been modified to take into consideration the criminal justice and police reforms that were recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly in January 2021. All photos included in this post were taken by the author.

In remarks in February 2020 at Elgin Community College’s “The Long Red Line: One Billion Rising,” an event raising awareness around rape culture and sexual assault,  Hain said that his greatest responsibility, and the priority of his office, is the welfare of the “hundreds of souls placed under his charge” as detainees in the jail. To this end he implemented programs and advocated for innovations within the jail to go beyond incapacitation or punishment, and to address rehabilitation and reintegration of people detained in the jail.

“There was no programming or supportive methodology in the past,” said Hain. “We were just warehousing humans.”

Hain sought to change that norm.

In the sixteen months prior to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, seemingly a tipping point for criminal justice reforms in America, some of the most progressive calls for reform in Kane County came from the sheriff’s office.

Terms like mass incarceration, disproportionate minority contact, and bail reform are not commonly used by law enforcement. The Kane County Sheriff’s Office is different.

Early in 2020 the Kane County Sheriff’s Office convened a forum in Aurora, Illinois called “Humanizing the Incarcerated” where Hain addressed a range of issues including disproportionate minority arrests.

During the presentation Hain noted that Black men were disproportionately represented in Kane County Jail when he took over in December 2018. Data from the Vera Institute of Justice confirms that Kane County Jail has had a disproportionate Black population for years prior to 2018 as well. While stopping short of attributing these numbers to racism in the presentation, the follow up presentation by Lanthrum shined a spotlight on the rates of drug usage in Kane County between White and Black people and the rates of arrest for drugs. This data showed that rates of substance abuse did not match the rates of arrest and incarceration. The event was driving home a point – without necessarily using the actual words – that racism plays a role in who gets arrested and detained in the county jail.

The arrest disparities are largely outside of the sheriff’s office’s control. What happens to detainees while they are in the sheriff’s custody is something the sheriff can change. The reality is that people arrested for possession of illegal substances often suffer from substance addictions, and that addictions are a medical condition and not moral failings. Hain’s innovations in the jail recognize the medical and public health implications.

“Now we have a graduating support system that focuses on incarcerated Kane County residents,” said Hain. “If they are productive in the tablet programs, mentor presentations, and moral reconation therapy, they can move to the Recovery Pod which is a very relaxed group environment with intense group therapy, counseling, and re-entry training.”

Hain is using tablet computers to allow detainees to participate in programming. The tablet programs are educational and supplement the overall diversion program. Moral reconation therapy is a cognitive behavioral therapy developed in a prison-based substance addiction therapy program by Dr. Gregory Little and Dr. Kenneth Robinson in 1985. According to a report on MRT funded by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority in 2003, “MRT is typically delivered through group sessions,” and the sessions are conducted by trained MRT facilitators. MRT is a proprietary system, and it is unclear whether the sheriff’s office staff are trained facilitators or there is a contract to provide these services.

Providing these services in jail is not without controversy. The FY2019 annual report for the sheriff’s office emphasized that rehabilitation services are not funded by tax revenues.

According to Hain “many government officials state they can’t change the system or conduct progressive initiatives because it is not in their budget.”

Hain went on to note that “we have proven that you can make change with little-to-no money spent, just by shifting employees’ mindsets, using grant dollars, and leading the change yourself.” Even as the sheriff’s office strives to change the mindset around public safety, the prevailing views emphasizing punishment and incapacitation still carry greater sway than do rehabilitation and reintegration. The lack of funding for rehabilitation and reintegration services may raise concerns over the longer term viability of these programs. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, an executive branch agency that oversees federal and state grants focused on criminal justice programs, has long maintained that the most effective grant funded programs must provide for alternative or successor funding once the grant expires.

The sustainability challenge may get some help in 2021. The people of Kane County elected a reform minded State’s Attorney in Jaime Mosser in November, and the Pritzker administration is pushing forward additional criminal justice reforms in the legislature. The reform package was passed by the Illinois General Assembly in early January 2021 and as of this writing is awaiting further action by Gov. Pritzker.

In previous public statements Hain said bringing back electronic home monitoring was something he began working on as soon as he took office in 2018. A pilot program was launched 13 months later in early 2020 with five individuals. As of November 2020 there were approximately 30 people on EHM.

EHM, according to Hain, is intended to reduce the number of people detained in the jail. Hain has advocated for and defended EHM as both fiscally sound and more effective in rehabilitation and reintegration.

On the fiscal side Hain said it is significantly less costly to place a person on EHM than to house him or her in the jail. The sheriff’s office said it cost approximately $62 per day to house a person in the jail. It costs $3.75 per day per person to lease the equipment needed for EHM according to a news release issued in January 2020. The reintroduction of EHM may help Kane County respond faster and better now that cash bail is being eliminated in Illinois.

Ending cash bail, a reform recently enacted in California, and which has been in place in Washington, D.C. since the early 1990s, will require, among other things, technological innovations. Electronic home monitoring may facilitate and ease Kane County’s ability to implement this reform as it gets phased in over the next few years.

There is a trust deficit between law enforcement and the people in Kane County. This includes the sheriff’s office. It’s not a problem across the board. Rather, it is most frequently encountered within Black and brown communities, as well as within poor communities within the county. In these communities it can feel as though law enforcement is an adversary rather than a protector.

Both the existence of this trust deficit and the probable causes of the trust deficit are hotly debated.

Hain has been engaged in a wide range of community engagement activities. Over the spring and summer of 2020 Hain marched with community members in a Black Lives Matter march in Elgin. His office was present during a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Geneva where he was present and visible.

When the organizers of the Geneva rally made an impromptu decision to march and close down a busy nearby intersection, Hain and his officers engaged the disruption of traffic effectively. The traffic was diverted without incident, no arrests were made, and a few potential altercations between angry motorists and the protesting pedestrians occupying the intersection were de-escalated.

In Elgin Hain is actively engaged with the Our Neighborhoods Empowered (O.N.E.) organization. At the grand opening of O.N.E. in the fall of 2019 the organization’s president and executive director, Marcus Banner, presented an award to Hain in recognition of Hain’s efforts in support of O.N.E.

Sheriff Hain was honored at the Grand Opening of the O.N.E. in the fall of 2019

Recently Hain helped a charity event for O.N.E. by entering the boxing ring to square off against Banner. It was a charity boxing match, but Hain took some hard hits during the bout.

“The symbolism for us was to show a united community  where law enforcement and community come together fighting for common goals,” said Banner.

Banner said that he works with Hain to address issues of recidivism, gun violence, and to advance criminal justice reform.

“Ron Hain and I began forging our partnership when he first ran for office,” said Banner. “Through conversations of similar visions we solidified our brotherhood  when he showed his commitment for what he believes in no matter how much of an underdog he is.”

It’s not just in Elgin that people are taking note of the sheriff’s office’s community engagement. Dr. Vincent Gaddis, a professor of History at Benedictine University and a chaplain in the sheriff’s office, has observed the changes from Aurora as well.

National Night Out at the Kane County Judicial Center 2019: Dr. Gaddis and Junaid

“One of the things I see is Sheriff Hain engaged with the community,” said Gaddis. “Whether our senior citizens, or youth mentoring programs, or work and entrepreneurial programs he is running inside the jail, Hain is making the changes he can, making the relationships he can, within the larger scope of the carceral state.”

Sheriff Hain’s commitment to addressing mass incarceration and systemic racism took a serious hit, however, when he came out against the proposed criminal justice and police reform legislation in January 2021.

It was not that he raised concerns.

It was his wholesale adoption of fear-mongering and the maligning of Black Lives Matter messaging to sow fear into the public.

This graphic – a gross mischaracterization of the proposed reforms and a purposeful maligning of the “defund the police” policy – was shared and adopted by Sheriff Hain on his personal Facebook page

The “Defund the Police” effort is about re-prioritizing funding to ensure that the most needed services to the community are delivered in the most effective ways possible. Not every dollar invested into local, county, or state law enforcement is best used in those units of government. Social services, including mental health services, are best provided by professionals who are not a part of a law enforcement agency, for example. The Illinois Sheriffs Association chose this craven tactic in lieu of being truthful. There is no excuse for promoting and amplifying these lies.

This post uses the “parade of horribles” rhetoric to scare the public.

The Kane County Sheriff’s Office had an opportunity to set the tone and the pace of police and jail reform throughout Illinois. Sheriff Ron Hain made numerous changes to the office in his first two years. Thankfully, and despite Sheriff Hain’s ill-advised and poorly considered opposition to it, the criminal justice and police reforms (at least in part) passed.

Newly elected Kane County State’s Attorney Jaime Mosser campaigned on elements of criminal justice reform, and in another version of this article (which appears in the Kane County Bar Association’s Jan/Feb 2021 Bar Briefs publication) I stated that the sheriff’s office may have an opportunity to deepen and expand the reforms it has begun if it finds a willing partner in Mosser. This notion is now called into question as State’s Attorney Mosser has come out in opposition to the reform legislation using some of the same craven tactics adopted by Sheriff Hain.

The challenges to fixing the broken criminal justice system and implementing greater accountability for the police will be a daunting undertaking even if Sheriff Hain and State’s Attorney Mosser re-discover their progressive commitments. The COVID-19 pandemic is resurgent, the wide-spread availability and efficacy of a vaccine remains uncertain, and the commitment of the county board and municipal leaders to rehabilitation and reintegration remains unproven. All of these variables will present additional challenges for all divisions of the Kane County Sheriff’s Office in the months to come.

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