Jail consultant: County needs to decide on whom to lock up

URBANA — A consultant hired to assess Champaign County's criminal justice system says the county needs "a better definition of who it wants to put in cages."

The blunt remarks from Alan Kalmanoff, executive director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Institute for Law & Policy Planning, came at a public hearing Tuesday night on the $144,000 study of the county's justice system.

"Once that definition is there," Kalmanoff said, "the pressure on the police to arrest anybody who's kicking a garbage can or waking up your neighbor who calls the cops and asks them to do something about this guy because he's disrupting my sleep, you change everything. A little bit is all you need to change."

Now, Kalmanoff asserted, "your police are trying to do everything for everybody and it's very hard for them to ignore constituencies asking for a police response."

Kalmanoff formally unveiled his 272-page final report on revising the county's criminal justice system, a study that grew out of a preliminary examination two years ago of a perceived need to rebuild the county's correctional facilities, particularly the much-criticized 33-year-old downtown Urbana jail.

He said concerns about the county building a $20 million jail were "a bit bogus."

For now, he said, "our report does not recommend that you build a new jail," but he said "there are major maintenance and construction improvements that you probably need to do real soon" at the county's two jail facilities.

"Eventually you either will or you will not have to do some building," Kalmanoff said cryptically. "Will it be a big, brand-new jail? I don't think so. But we'll have to see."

That kind of vagueness in Kalmanoff's report bothered at least two county board members at Tuesday's meeting.

"When this study started, I thought I would be in the hopes of hearing a report on what our future needs were going to be, and whether that downtown (jail) could be rehabbed or not rehabbed," said Rantoul area Republican Stan James. "But in your report, you sort of say yes and no and maybe. The bottom line for me is, Where do we head?'"

James said he had expected a clear recommendation to the county board from Kalmanoff.

"I really didn't see anything that hit home with me that said, 'Here is your best road to take and how to get to that road,'" James said.

Champaign Republican Jim McGuire chided Kalmanoff for not including cost estimates along with a priority list for programs the county could implement to reduce the number of jail inmates.

"I think one of the things that hasn't been brought up is a list of the things that we're trying to accomplish. ... I think we need a list of what these things really will cost so we understand their impact on the budget," he said.

Kalmanoff praised county officials for work they've already undertaken toward reducing the jail population, and repeatedly praised Sheriff Dan Walsh, once calling him "a fabulous, fabulous sheriff."

The next county board discussion about the jail report could occur at an Oct. 1 study session on next year's county budget. Board members could discuss funding for new courts-related programs and a suggestion by Champaign Democrat Pattsi Petrie to double the county's quarter-cent public safety sales tax.

Five of 22 board members were absent from Tuesday night's presentation: Democrats Giraldo Rosales, Lloyd Carter, Lorraine Cowart and Ralph Langenheim, and Republican Gary Maxwell.

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pattsi wrote on September 25, 2013 at 6:09 am

Reminder, there are more opportunities to discuss/comment on this report:

1. 25 Sept  6:30 P  Urbana Free LIbrary in auditorium, sponsored by Citizens for Peace and JUstice.

2. 26 Sept  7P Urbana Civic Center, sponsored by the League of Women Voters

3. 1 Oct  6 P  Brookens, Shields mtg room, CB committee of the whole meeting with one agenda item--the county budget.

If you can not attend any of the above, contact your CB member to share your thoughts.