Consultants: County manages jail population well, but can improve parts of justice system

Consultants: County manages jail population well, but can improve parts of justice system

URBANA — Champaign County is doing a good job of managing its jail population, consultants say, but it needs to improve "filtering" the people who end up in the criminal justice system.

Representatives of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Institute of Law and Policy Planning have been in Champaign County for more than a month, interviewing people about the county's criminal justice system in preparation for the release of a jail-needs assessment, due in late April. The county is paying ILPP nearly $120,000 for the study.

One of the consultants, David Voorhis, told the county board last week that the county has "a great opportunity here to make big changes in your system.

"It's really apparent that the system, the sheriff and the courts in particular have made strides in reducing the jail's population. But there's a lot of work to be done in that jail, both jails. I don't speak of just the downtown jail. That satellite jail really needs some help, too," Voorhis, a former police chief in Boulder, Colo., told the county board.

He did not elaborate, but both he and Alan Kalmanoff, the executive director of ILPP, said the county "can further tighten its system."

"Eighty to 90 percent of the people that go into the county jail come back out. They don't go into the prison system, only a very small part go," Voorhis said. "That's the filtering process that county jails do, which means you really need some good instruments in screening the right people to go on, and you don't have those," he said of Champaign County. "Those are really not in place, in my opinion."

Kalmanoff, in a separate interview, said the county's criminal justice system "has gotten much faster in the last six or seven years. And that's why you don't have (jail) crowding anymore. I haven't seen the data yet but I predict, before I even look at it, that it won't be a matter of more or less crime but rather it's faster processing."

That, he said, "is an enormous, enormous credit to this county, the government, the criminal justice system and particularly the presiding judge."

Now it is time to "further tighten the system" with programs that keep people out of jail, Kalmanoff said.

"That might mean a day reporting center. Not a residential center but a place where people report to with their bag lunch to take anger management programs and to take an alcohol and drug program," he said. "Or it might mean putting someone in for drunk driving in a motel because the drunk driver who's sober isn't driving and drinking. Why do you need (jail) bars? All you need is a hitching post."

"You've got a chance to really make a change in the criminal justice system," Voorhis said. "I'm often shocked by what counties do across this nation to perpetuate 200 years of the same kind of jails."

Neither man indicated they were ready to recommend closing the much-maligned, 32-year-old downtown Urbana jail that is across Main Street from the county courthouse. That's the course backed by, among others, Sheriff Dan Walsh.

But, said Voorhis, "I'm not saying don't build a jail. I'm just saying build right, plan, participate."

Said Kalmanoff, "If you have two facilities you're spending more than you would with the same number of beds under one roof."

And he said the satellite jail in east Urbana "isn't falling apart. It has a core. It has a kitchen. It has some of the things that are expensive, so one would think that one could make something out of that. We'll have to see. We're going to be looking at that, and we'll do some architectural and planning analysis of that."

Walsh— who said he's already talked to Kalmanoff, Voorhis and a third consultant about the county jail facilities — noted that the satellite jail "was designed so that you can add pods," and that's what he believes should be done.

"My position since about 2003 or 2004 has been that (the downtown jail) has huge problems. Something significant needs to be done. I am not a contractor, but I think the most logical thing is to add on to the satellite," Walsh said. "It is probably much more economical and efficient to do everything out there."

Meanwhile, Kalmanoff said he's kept busy interviewing people interested in the justice system.

"There's nobody we won't talk to," he said. "I've already talked to probably 20 people and I've only been here twice. I have other people working here too. By the time we're done, I'm sure we will have talked to at least 100 people."

And Voorhis urged the 22 county board members to dive into the jail issue.

"When we lock people up and take their freedoms away, we are committing a very difficult act under the sanction of the county," he said. "So I'm asking you to participate. Don't leave this study to be completed by ILPP and wait for the response. There's a lot of time between now and when this report comes out. I ask for your continued involvement."

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rsp wrote on December 18, 2012 at 9:12 am

"There's nobody we won't talk to," he said. "I've already talked to probably 20 people and I've only been here twice. I have other people working here too. By the time we're done, I'm sure we will have talked to at least 100 people."

It would be nice to have some contact info for anyone wanting to provide something of value. 

cretis16 wrote on December 18, 2012 at 4:12 pm

WOW.....$120,000 for this?

pattsi wrote on December 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Here are some avenues that you and other county citizens might consider using to share  ideas, suggestions, and concerns about the jail issue.

1. Directly contact your county board representative

2. Come to any county board meeting and talk to the CB during pubic participation, which is always at the top of the agenda. You can check about meetings here

3. Here is the web site for ILPP

Local Yocal wrote on December 18, 2012 at 9:12 am
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It would be nice if the law enforcement officials would provide some context for how much drug court and how much mental health court and how much adult diversion there is compared to the number of cases per year the county handles. The paltry amounts by which these alternatives are used per year is why the consultant and the Social Justice Task Force are recommending "more of." The county law enforcement officials seem to think that waving these alternatives at everyone is a convincing defense of their practices. There is a difference between "having something" and "using something." In Champaign County, these alternatives are rarely deployed. 

As Republican County Board Member Maxwell learned the hard way, none of the $49 million dollars of taxpayer money raised by the Quarter-Cent Retailers Tax for Public Safety since 1999 has gone to maintain the downtown county jail. Sheriff Walsh's confession that he has been recommending a new build-out at the Sattelite since 2003 should be followed by the confession Walsh should be making, "...and so I did nothing to fix or maintain the downtown jail." Funny, if it's so bad at the downtown facility, why do they keep putting employees and inmates in it for the last 10 years? Why does the Illinois Department of Corrections give the downtown jail a seal of approval every single year during annual inspections?

rsp wrote on December 18, 2012 at 11:12 am

The drug and mental health courts have fixed budgets. That limits the number of people they can serve. To serve more the county would have to allocate more to them. That's the way things are always done. Not how it's most likely to succeed, but there are x number of slots to fill. If it's the best place for you isn't the priority. We prefer short-term fixes to long-term solutions. As far as the downtown jail, some things can't be fixed. It can't be modernized. There are too many blind spots in the building that endanger both guards and inmates. Standards change over time. 

Local Yocal wrote on December 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm
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None of the interior walls are load-bearing at the Downtown jail, (architect at Jan. 31, 2012 meeting said so) so the downtown jail could be "modernized" instead of spending $22 million on new jail pods at the Satellite. Speaking of spending $22 million, why not spend money to keep people out of jail, rather than spend a ton of money (and send the county's budget into debt until the year 2039) on new pods and firing two deputies? It is amazing that any "good" proposal to do "good" things is poo-pooed as too expensive when spending zillions on the 200-year model of more cages is always accepted as a necessity to go into further debt over.

rsp wrote on December 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Remodelling and modernizing are not the same thing. Did they give any estimates? That would have to include the cost of relocating the inmates who are there. I'd kind of like to see them add a pod or two and fix the downtown if there was the money. I don't know how many they put in a pod so it's hard to guess. But use the downtown as an alternate setting. Do some kind of different programming there instead of it just ending up being file storage or something. 

Local Yocal wrote on December 19, 2012 at 4:12 am
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The local architect who was paid about $7,000 to consult on the downtown jail in 2011, talked about some fantasy scenario of building "up,"  adding additional stories to the old downtown jail. He had no numbers and the idea was to expand the number of beds the facility could hold going upwards. (Currently there is space for 130 inmates and only 50 beds at the downtown facility are being used.) No one suggested building "up," and upon further examination, the architect admitted he did no analysis as to what a remodeling project could do though he was forced to admit at the board meeting that the walls were not load bearing and the footprint to the inside could be re-arranged to solve all the little problems the Sheriff was whining about. (light bulbs, dingy paint, bugs and rats) He was paid $7000 to say what the Sheriff wanted him to say, "It would be crazy expensive to remodel the d-town jail." As if $22 million at the Satellite were less of a project. Members of the county board didn't buy his report.

What the consultant and others have been trying to communicate to the Board and local law enforcement is the cheapest way to address the criminal justice system is to end the drug war, stop jailing people over traffic offenses (except DUI in extreme cases) and reserve jail space for violent crimes, rather than "rule violations." Champaign County has plenty of space for the violent. They could easily consolidate everything at the Satellite for under $3 million if the Downtown facility were to be discarded. Discarding a 33-year facility is wasteful and there are architectural solutions to re-design that building to make it work. But that's never been what law enforcement wants. They want more jail at the Satellite. They use jailing to force plea bargains for even the smallest of crimes. Anyone who has dealt with this criminal justice system knows how the game is played.

The jail has also been used as a mental health facility since the dismantling of the mental health system over the last 20 years. The cops admit the only reason they are taking mentally ill subjects to the jail is because there is no where else to take them since Pavillion does not accept poor people, and Provena has very limited space for about 20 in-patient people. The State's Attorney claimed she prosecutes the mentally ill because they are dangerous, which contradicted the mental health nurse at the jail who said 80% of the mentally ill are there on misdemeanors. Hopefully, ILPP will do the work to illuminate what is really going on. It will be tough, since law enforcement has been baulking at any examination of its practices, characterizing such an analysis as a "witch hunt." Who knew witches ran the criminal justice system? Their attitude has been "the downtown facility is in ruins [because they never took care of it] so give us the damn money so we can have more jail."

SaintClarence27 wrote on December 19, 2012 at 11:12 am

The jail has also been used as a mental health facility since the dismantling of the mental health system over the last 20 years.

This is exactly correct - and not just in Champaign County, either.

voice from the deep wrote on December 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

If we are collecting about $4 million a year in public safety sales tax (which we are) surely this money would be better spent providing mental health treatment to people before they have an encounter with the police rather than once they are in jail. This not only helps the individuals concerned but is a contribution to public safety. People with mental health issues, especially the poor, will be treated and supported, not wandering the streets where they may either commit a crime or will be vulnerable to police roundups or the frustrations of unsympathetic or non-comprehending residents.

Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on December 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm

We're already paying $3.75 million for mental health services via the County's property tax levy.  What does that money go for?


SaintClarence27 wrote on December 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Mostly it goes to DSC, I believe. Also, how cheap do you think Mental Health Services are? They're expensive. That said, they're less expensive than dealing with the costs of incarceration and crime.

Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on December 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I thought the $3.6 million that is being levied in the County's property tax for the Developmentally Disabled went to DSC.  The Mental Health Levy plus the DD Levy together are approaching the total levied for General Corporate purposes, and each of them alone is three times what is being levied to support the Nursing Home.

serf wrote on December 19, 2012 at 10:12 pm

"Or it might mean putting someone in for drunk driving in a motel because the drunk driver who's sober isn't driving and drinking. Why do you need (jail) bars? All you need is a hitching post."


I stopped taking this guy seriously after I read this.

rsp wrote on December 20, 2012 at 6:12 am

No, he's right about the majority of them. They could be on house arrest or something a lot cheaper and free up bed space. You would be surprised at how boring staying in your house is when you have to do it. People stop coming over because it feels like a prison. 

There are other people sitting there solely because they can't afford bail. They may sit there a month and a half or so be for they are released without it. So then that time is included in any sentence. If they were able to be bailed out from the beginning, there isn't any need to account for that time.

So two people with the same charge, one gets bailed at the start one doesn't. Both get the same probation. One gets an extra 48 days tacked on for being poor. Is this fair?

serf wrote on December 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Admittedly, I might have just jumped to a conclusion based on poor wording or context.  


I initially read it as him saying that people don't need to be arrested for DUI, we should just simply take them to a motel to sober up instead.  If this is the case, then I stand by my original assertion that he's not a serious person and I'll simply disregard anything else he says.  

If I was mistaken and he was talking about something else, then I apologize. (However, I don't see how paying for a hotel room would be cheaper that a bed at the jail).

I believe that drunk driving is a very real issue in our society and anyone who attempts to diminish the severity of it is not a serious person, IMHO.




rsp wrote on December 21, 2012 at 5:12 am

I didn't read it that way. If that was his belief system I have a feeling that Mothers Against Drunk Drivers would have fought them doing the study in the first place. I do think there are themes in the studies they put out though. I think he was trying to make a good point and picked a bad example. Take someone who has to spend weekends in jail. They go in on friday night and stay till sunday evening. I am assuming they still do this. But to assure they have space when that person comes back on friday, their cell is kept empty all week long. But during the week it's one less person to guard, feed and clothe, and provide medical care to. Same with work release, cells are empty during the day. And these are almost all traffic offences.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm

They all come back on Friday night?  Let's face it, they are in jail due to poor judgements made, and the lack of self control.  At least require them to wear an armband when they are out Monday thru Friday.  Shame, and public ostrecism still works for a few.

rsp wrote on December 21, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Depends on the charge. Could be a minor traffic offense. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm

A minor traffic offense, I can agree on.  However, most minor traffic offenses do not end up with jail time.  A repeat offender might get jail time.  My main concern is the release of irresponsible people back out among the public who they have endangered before.  A repeat DUI offender for example.  Someone busted with possession is different also from possession with the intent to deliver.  I can see where it would work with first time offenders of minor crimes; but repeat offenders, or offenders of more serious crimes would be risky.

The fumbling Gov. Quinn tried it in the past with prison inmates; but bumbled by not making distinctions.  I doubt that the county would be as incompetent as Quinn though.  There would be no campaign donations involved with the county either unlike Quinn.

mstrom wrote on December 21, 2012 at 3:12 pm
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Many crimes including drunk driving are the result of addiction.  The best way to address this is to provide opportunity to give addicts and alcoholics the tools for recovery from their disease.  This does not mean than they shouldn't be held accountable, but if your only answer is to lock them up, then they will repeat and repeat and repeat their crimes.  I know a lady who is now a very productive member of society who went through home detention and drug court.  She has been to prison before.  She said drug court was harder--substantial accountability for actively taking part in treatment, being on time, attendance, performing service, other penalties--if any of the requirements were not followed it resulted in increasing punishments, including short jail stints, up to and including long term incarceration.  I think these kinds of programs are smart.  Hold violators accountable but give them the tools and opportunity for recovery.  Having said this, there does come a point when the severity or the number of crimes should and does cancel out this kind of opportunity.  Example would be an aggravated DUI resulting in serious injury or death