Editorial: New sheriff's promising trial of firsthand jail experience
Potentially, there's a lot to be gained by walking a mile in someone else's shoes.
You see what others see. You experience what others experience. You feel what others feel.
Done sincerely and with an open mind and open eyes, you should learn something that might change a perspective and lead to a little more understanding and empathy than otherwise comes from the outside looking in.
That's especially true if you're the guy in charge.
With that in mind, we'll be looking to see if new Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain's plan to spend a few nights in the Kane County Adult Correctional Center provides the kind of understanding that helps him delivery the positive changes he has promised.
"As sheriff and keeper of the house, it is important to experience it myself," Hain told our Susan Sarkauskas.
The move isn't unique -- former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran periodically spent some time in his jail to call attention to conditions in prisons and jails, and former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne moved into the infamous Cabrini Green complex to experience life there -- and such events can have the whiff of a publicity stunt.
But Hain stresses that as a newly elected sheriff whose law enforcement career never included working in the corrections division, it's important that he understand the situation in his office's largest department.
More to the point, he campaigned on promises of instituting programs and education to improve detainees' chances of living a crime-free life after they are released. What better place to start than to put on an orange jail uniform, get a blanket and mattress and spend the night in one of the pods? He did that last week and plans to return in the coming months.
Of course, the experience isn't completely true-to-life -- he'll be protected by guards, who will be on their best behavior, and he'll go home to his family the next morning. Still, spending a few nights in the jail should produce some insight.
At the outset, Hain said he'll focus on the quality of food, clothing and whether the cells are too cold. They were among the suggested areas of improvement in a mid-December survey of corrections staff.
The top complaint about the food involves taste, lack of calories and not conforming to religious standards.
Complaints about the temperature and rules that prohibited detainees from covering themselves with blankets between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. unless they received permission from staff resulted in a 2017 lawsuit pending in federal court.
We look forward to hearing the about Hain's experience and how it forges important changes in the jail.