County's jail planning delayed a week

County's jail planning delayed a week

URBANA — The next step in Champaign County's jail planning process will have to wait a week.

A meeting of the county board's facilities committee, which had been scheduled for tonight, has been pushed back a week because of the lack of a quorum of committee members. But the full county board still is expected to review and vote later this month on a contract with Gorski Reifsteck Architects Inc. and Kimme & Associates to evaluate the county's two correctional facilities and the sheriff's office operations and to develop a master plan for the sheriff's facilities.

"We'd like them to get started as soon as possible," county board chairman Alan Kurtz said Monday.

The contract calls for the firms to develop a sheriff's operations master plan with as many as three conceptual facility options for review by the sheriff and the county board.

Among the issues to be considered, wrote deputy county administrator Van Anderson in a memo to facilities committee members, are various reports to the county about its jails and corrections programs from groups including the National Institute of Corrections, the Institute for Law and Public Policy Planning and a county community justice task force.

Those reports addressed everything from poor conditions in the 1980-vintage downtown jail, to shortages of administrative, records and storage space, to a disparity in conditions for women and men, and in services for the mentally ill.

Two of the reports recommended closing the downtown jail, which was called "deplorable." For years, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh has said the downtown jail was poorly designed, is already antiquated, can't meet the needs of today's jail population with its mental health and medical disorders, and should be closed.

But county officials have been unable to decide whether to add on to the 182-bed satellite jail in east Urbana, which was built in 1996, or to try some other option. In the meantime, the county has continued to operate two correctional facilities.

Reusing the old county nursing home and the juvenile detention center for correctional programs already has been ruled out.

In advertising for bids for the planning process, county officials said they were "specifically concerned with meeting the housing needs of prisoners with significant medical and/or mental health disorders as well as providing specific space for various programs the sheriff and county offer to inmates."

"I think it's essential to get going on this," Kurtz said Monday. "We're under what I think is pressure to make sure that these facilities are safe for both the inmates and the correctional officers who have to deal with this situation each and every day.

"The women (inmates) are in a temporary facility out at the satellite jail. We need to have permanent facilities for them, but we also need to have facilities for special needs, like mental health and physical health."

Kurtz said the contract with the consulting team that includes Gorski Reifsteck Architects, Kimme & Associates, Allied Correctional Services, GHR Engineers, Engineering Resource Associates and Berns, Clancy Engineers does not specify when the work has to be completed. But he said he expected that the county board would act on the recommendations "within the next year."

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