URBANA — Champaign County’s downtown Urbana jail should be abandoned “as quickly as possible,” and improvements also are needed at the newer east Urbana satellite jail, a criminal justice and facility consultant recommends to the county board in a draft 212-page report given to county board members Tuesday.
County board members reviewed the report for nearly two hours Tuesday evening. A two-hour public hearing on the document is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the county board meeting room at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.
The executive director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Institute for Law and Policy Planning, Alan Kalmanoff, stressed Tuesday that the report is a draft, said a full executive summary and an action plan would come by the end of May, and appeared to hedge on items that were labeled as recommendations in the report.
Here is a link to the report, which is a 25MB download from the county's website.
"You could read between the lines here and see that the old downtown jail has a serious potential for its demise," he told county board members. "There are a lot of reasons to demolish it and move on and do something else. But there are also reasons to fix it up and keep it. And you should not read this with the idea that we ought to demolish this and move on to a different place as a final recommendation of this report. This is a draft."
Asked later how he could revise a recommendation, Kalmanoff said, "Maybe somebody will tell me there's not enough money to do what I want to do and it has to be in use for another five years. And then I will say until you can demolish it, here's what you have to do."
But Tuesday's ILPP report is the second time in two years that an independent group has recommended shutting down the county’s 131-bed downtown jail. The National Institute of Corrections said in May 2011 that conditions at the jail were “deplorable” and that it should be closed.
“The downtown jail is in such poor condition that it should be abandoned as quickly as possible, with segregation holding at the booking area as the top priority,” says the new report from ILPP. “The facility cannot be remodeled or used without a major undertaking or replacing entire mechanical systems. Due to budget allocation issues, maintenance occurs only at a minimal level.
“The satellite jail is only marginally better in comparison, and contains serious drainage problems; seriously deficient building supports systems; insufficient water pressure, and requires significant upgrades.”
The report makes no specific recommendations about building more housing units at the satellite jail — which now has a capacity of 182 inmates — but it does urge the county to modify existing housing units at the newer east Urbana facility to make room for more inmates.
“The sheriff’s office should consider triple bunking, creating inexpensive barriers, and reassign existing living units to move female inmates from the downtown jail to the satellite jail,” the report says. “State jail standards can be temporarily suspended until an appropriate segregation unit can be established.
“Dangerous conditions, such as inadequate shower drains that result in slippery floors, persist. Closing the downtown jail can be accomplished through relatively inexpensive changes to alter segregation in the pods, to allow movement of female prisoners from the downtown facility to the satellite jail. These include temporary walls for makeshift corridors to meet requirements for separation of sight and sound between inmates.”
And while no recommendation is made regarding expansion of the satellite jail, the consultants suggest that the “design and layout of the satellite jail facility allows for expansion in several directions” and that “an expansion either north or south of the central corridor would be ideal.”
The report offers no estimates about the cost to close the downtown jail, built in 1980, or to improve the satellite facility, built in 1996.
In his comments to the county board Tuesday night, Kalmanoff said he doesn't believe he is proposing a large construction program.
"Compared to what I was half expecting and a lot of you were concerned about when I got here, the bitter pill is not too bitter," he said. "I just don't think that this is a giant building program."
In addition to expanding the number of beds at the satellite jail, the report suggests other changes there:
— implementing video visitation for attorneys and family members who want to visit with inmates;
— adding a women’s dormitory, a mental health unit with single- and double-soft cells, and a small dorm, and a program and treatment space;
— adding storage space at the satellite jail;
— remodeling the satellite jail’s kitchen, and adding more space for food storage and meal preparation;
— expanding the property room at the satellite; and
— “relaunching” the satellite with a large new lobby. “The space should be normalized with couches and chairs to create a warmer atmosphere,” the report says. “This space presents opportunities for positive public relations campaigns.”
The report makes a number of other recommendations about jail facilities and the county’s criminal justice system.
“ILPP finds that Champaign’s facilities and system raise constitutional questions for inmates, particularly for women and mental health inmates,” the report states. “Justice system leaders should feel compelled to fix the system and its facilities to avoid substantial lawsuits and persistent system problems and backlogs.”
It also recommends:
— appropriate space for a jail infirmary;
— adequate space to segregate medical and mental health inmates, including a possible “pod or dormitory assigned specifically for those with mental health issues.”
— providing access to mental health therapy services at the jail;
— an improved classification and risk assessment process for jail inmates, particularly those at the pretrial stage;
— formation of a county criminal justice advisory board to help institute best practces and increase cost effectiveness.
Kalmanoff told the county board, however, that the group should not be public, should not meet in public and should include "just the people who have their hands on the keys to the gate."
— develop a “sobering center” for public drunks and drunken drivers, rather than housing such offenders in a more expensive jail;
— studying whether there is a race-based bias in policing and in the broader criminal justice system;
The county is paying approximately $120,000, including expenses, for the ILPP study, said County Administrator Deb Busey.