Facilities panel OKs sheriff's plans

With full board approval, it could mean a decision on 2 county jails

URBANA — A contract for a sheriff's operations master plan — likely leading to a decision on what to do with the county's mismatched pair of adult correctional facilities — was approved 5-0 Tuesday by a Champaign County Board committee.

The contract — with a local team including Gorski Reifsteck Architects, Kimme & Associates, Allied Correctional Services, GHR Engineering, Engineering Resource Associates and Berns Clancy Engineers — will be considered by the full county board next week.

The contract's cost is estimated at between $144,000 and $185,000.

The variance depends on which of three "conceptual facility options" offered by the team is adopted, and how much detail the county board wants.

The planning process is expected to take four to six months, according to county Administrator Deb Busey.

County board members at the facilities committee meeting — including five who are not members of the committee — were virtually unanimous in expressing support for the process.

"My goal all along has been to close the downtown jail, get our inmates out of there and in the long run get the sheriff and his team out of there," said Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke.

Urbana Democrat James Quisenberry said his focus has been on merging the two facilities — the downtown Urbana jail, built in 1980, and a larger satellite jail, built 15 years later and 2 miles to the east.

"Regardless of whether we could shrink down quite a bit if we were in one place, we certainly would gain efficiencies. We certainly would not have to do things twice," Quisenberry said. "I think this cost is high for what we're doing, but one of the elements in here is that we're going to look at this downtown facility, which we know needs attention and may not be viable as a future justice facility, but we'll spend time and money evaluating it."

Quisenberry suggested the downtown jail may be in good enough shape that it could be used for another purpose, either by the county or another entity.

"We'll know a lot about that building and we'll know a lot about what maybe we can use it for differently, or somebody else can use it for differently," he said. "I look forward to having a plan that we can act on, in piece or in whole, to close our downtown jail and get the inmates that we have to take care of in a place that is modern, supportive and meets their individual needs."

Stan James, the Rantoul Republican who chairs the facilities committee, cautioned that the closure of the downtown jail isn't a certainty.

"I keep hearing that a move would be the best. We don't have those results yet. That's what this study is about," he said. "By no means is it a foregone conclusion that (the downtown jail) will absolutely be closed. It might be transitioned. It might be something else.

"And from the public, I keep hearing about all these other options, which are very, very nice and might be beneficial to the community. But the one thing we have to look at is cost, staff, utilities and all the other things that go into that."

County board Chairman Al Kurtz, a Champaign Democrat, said neither of the jails "can accommodate the culture of today's incarceration — the mental issues, the many problems in today's jail system, people who used to go to institutions."

The jails "have to be updated, but we're not sure where to go," Kurtz said. "This is our next step."

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

rsp wrote on July 15, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Maybe they could just use the downtown jail for work release. People who are only there at night or weekends. Set hours for it. Those people take up beds that could be used by other people. If someone is only doing weekends, they have to hold the cell open for them all week so they have a place to put them. They are calmer people, need less supervision. They could still allow outside groups to run programming, like AA, GED, etc. Require more responsibility from inmates.

Local Yocal wrote on July 16, 2014 at 11:07 am
Profile Picture

Bingo to what rsp said up above. The interior walls at the Urbana Downtown jail are not load-bearing and could be refigured into also classrooms for NA, and AA classes, GED classes. You know why they won't? (currently, the county spends ZERO dollars on programming in the jail.)

Because Sherriff Walsh doesn't want to. He flat out rejected the State's Attorney request such work release system be created so jailing doesn't require unemployment. Rietz understands the backlog of deliquent fines, fees, and court-cost payments. The Harris & Harris collection agency she has hired to collect deliquent payments estimates the county's convicted citizens now owe, collectively, near $20 million dollars!

When you gotta' system that prosecutes only the poor for mostly rule violations, a system that then brands them for life as "criminals," and then a hardcore business community that won't hire felons ever, you get the poor, getting poorer, getting poorer....they now jail people for not paying their city ordinance fines. They revoke people's probation for not paying probation fees. It's like John Piland II where Piland was attempting to jail people for not paying medical bills.

To which all the tough-on-crime conservatives said, "amen." But you're going to need to build a $23 million dollar addition to the jail to keep up, taxpayers. And you know how conservatives love more taxes, more government debt, and bigger Big Nanny Government buildings and bureacracies, so it all should be okay with them.