Champaign County Board Drops Downtown Jail For Future Use
The Champaign County Board has eliminated any long-term use of the aging downtown Urbana jail as a correctional facility.
But Thursday night's vote does leave open other possible uses, including as solely a sheriff’s office, or for private rentals.
But County Board Chairman Al Kurtz says it’s all long-term, since prisoners will still be brought to the satellite jail and downtown facility for the next 3 to 5 years.
The board is considering a future expansion of the satellite jail.
Kurtz said the county board expects to see an architect’s master plan on the future of its facilities by December or January.
“It will take time, planning, where the money’s going to come from, what the architect and their drawings looks like, how are you going to accommodate mental health, physical problems, violent offenders," he said.
Kurtz said the county may also consider tearing down the jail and selling the property.
He was defeated in the spring primary, and will be stepping down from the county board when his term ends in December, when a new board is seated.
A decision on what to do with the Champaign county jails will be made at Thursday night’s county board meeting.
A consultant’s final report on the future of Champaign County Jail facilities suggests authorities should be more concerned about who’s being locked up, and not building new ones.
A Champaign County task force looking at alternatives to incarceration and ways to limit recidivism presents its latest report to the county board on Tuesday.
Guest: James Kilgore
Guest host: Don Nolen
The Champaign County Board has committed more money and time to a consultant before a report is unveiled on the future of local jail facilities.
After weeks of delay, the Champaign County Board has agreed to seek out a needs assessment study for jail facilities.
The plan to bring in a consulting firm has been discussed for weeks. In Tuesday night's 5-hour committee of the whole meeting, the board agreed to an amended schedule for a criminal justice consulting firm to look at jail capacity needs. That firm will decide costs for either remodeling the jail in downtown Urbana, or expanding the satellite facility. The board is expected to award a contract by late July.
A number of amendments to the request for proposals were shot down. A couple came from Democrat Carol Ammons, who says she's still pleased overall.
"This process has long and tedious for the important reasons, right?" she said. "This is a huge undertaking, and I think we need a complete vetting of what we're going to actually do. And this is the beginning of that process."
Ammons did successfully seek out one motion, asking that a person of color from a minority-influenced county board district serve on a planning team that will also include sheriff Dan Walsh, State's Attorney Julia Reitz, and two other board members.
That suggestion didn't sit well with Reitz, who upset those who remained in the audience.
"Those of us who have volunteered to serve on this committee, to be part of this process, have the best interest of the county, and the system as a whole at heart," she said. "I'm absoutely willing to hear from anybody who has an interest, who wants to say something. But I do not think there needs to be a token person of color on the committee."
County Board Democrat and Facilties Committee Chair Tom Betz threatened to empty the room after members of the public snapped back at Reitz. The suggestion passed on a party line vote of 12 to 11, with all the 'yes' votes coming from Democrats. Ammons will ask the board to appoint her to that panel.
She and other members of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice have been critical of local authorities, saying there's a racial disparity of those incarcerated in Champaign County.
The Champaign County Board is prepared to take a straw vote Tuesday on whether to close the downtown jail, and expand the satellite facility.
But one activists group is opposed to what's been supported by Republican County Sheriff Dan Walsh and at least one Democratic Board member. County board Democrat Carol Ammons, who's also with CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, contends that the appropriate research hasn't been done.
"This is not a one time (payment) of putting up your building and the costs end," Ammons said. "This is going to be a recurring cost, which is not captured anywhere. That's why we're calling for a real study to be done. Of course, Mr. Betz does not believe that we need to invest any money into a real study. But I beg to differ. You're asking the taxpayers for upwards of $20-million with no actual study."
Ammons was referring to Democrat Tom Betz, who heads the county board's facilities committee. Tuesday night's discussion will focus on an engineer's report that focuses on structural problems with the downtown facility. Ammons also says the county's African-American Community will be adversely affected since more than half of those incarcerated locally are black. She says jail expansion is both a financial and a human development issue, saying expansion 'can't be discussed in a vacuum."
Republican county board member John Jay says he'll need a little more convincing before deciding the downtown jail is unusable. He also questions where the funding for the expansion will come from.
"We have some theories about some bonds coming due that we'll be able to utilize, but all that need to be laid out," Jay said. "I don't think that the amount that we orginally talked about is going to be close enough. The other thing that we really don't know, until we get into the process, what are we looking at? Are we looking at $25 to 35-million? I don't have a clue."
The county board study session is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, following a 5:30 press conference from the citizens' group.
Police in Champaign County are calling a death overnight at the county's correctional facility a suicide.
The sheriff's office says 24 year old Jesse Masengale had been sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison for predatory criminal sexual assault on a child.
They say during a routine check, corrections officers at the county's satellite jail found Masengale inside a shower room inside an open dorm for non-problem jail inmates, hanging from a strip of fabric torn from a jail bedsheet. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Carle Hospital after officers tried to revive him.
Sheriff's officials say they're investigating Masengale's death but haven't found reason to believe anyone else was involved. They say a mental health interview conducted after his sentencing Monday found no concern of self-harm.
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