Champaign County Board facilities committee gets firsthand look at jails

URBANA — Champaign County’s new sheriff and new county board leadership have begun the process of addressing the needs of an aging jail built in 1980 and a second jail, built in 1996, that is bursting at the seams to meet modern needs.

On Tuesday, Sheriff Dustin Heuerman and his staff led the board’s facilities committee on a tour of the downtown and satellite jails.

The visit was billed as the first step in helping the county respond to ongoing needs at the two facilities.

Off and on, the possible closure of the older downtown site and the renovation and expansion of the other site have been discussed.

“This has been an ongoing issue for about 10 years,” said board Chairman Giraldo Rosales. “We have had multiple contractors looking at the two buildings.”

Rosales said it will cost $7 million to demolish the downtown building and $20 million to remodel, upgrade and expand the satellite jail.

The rub, according to Rosales, is raising the money to do the work.

“It is a money issue,” he said.

Jail staff first led the board members on a tour of the satellite site, including booking, the holding area, video court, visitation room, the B-Pod, the A-Pod, kitchen, laundry, medical unit, mental health office and control room.

Then the committee toured the downtown site’s visitation area, living units, classroom, library and indoor recreation area.

Jail staff said the rise of gun violence, gangs and people with mental health issues have created modern challenges perhaps not anticipated when the satellite facility was built.

“By statute, we are in charge of providing a safe, healthy and clean facility for all the people who come here,” Heuerman said. “It is difficult to expand our offerings given the time and space restraints that we have.”

“The satellite jail wasn’t designed to take care of today’s needs,” board member Jon Rector said.

“There is inadequate space for mental health and re-entry,” said fellow board member Pranjal Vachaspati.

tmitchel@news-gazette.com

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