News Local/State

A Conversation With Allen Jones, Republican Candidate For Champaign County Sheriff


Republican Allen Jones is running for Champaign County Sheriff. Lee V. Gaines / Illinois Public Media

Republican Allen Jones is running for Champaign County Sheriff. Jones currently serves county’s deputy chief, and he’s spent nearly three decades working in the department. Sheriff Dan Walsh is not seeking another term in the office.

Jones won the Republican primary against opponent Greg Worrell. No one ran in the Democratic primary for sheriff. But Jones will face off against Democrat Dan Heuerman in the general election on Nov. 6. You can hear and read the full transcript of Heuerman’s recent interview with Illinois Public Media here.

Speaking with Illinois Public Media, Jones discussed his views on what he thinks should be done with the county’s two jail system, cooperation between the sheriff’s office and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the biggest challenges facing the department in the next four years.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Illinois Public Media: What is the county jail for?

Jones: The county jail is a detention center where folks who are confined pretrial will be detained. Now, traditionally sheriffs will have sentenced inmates there as well — so anybody who's sentenced on a misdemeanor or less than a year of detention would be housed at the county jail. So, for us, it's the entry point, if you will, to the criminal justice system, the place that law enforcement takes those that they've arrested on crimes. And then from then on out it's our responsibility to house the inmates in the best and most constitutional way, and present them to the courts for charges or the proceedings that will take place after that.

Illinois Public Media: And so, moving on, what is the role of the sheriff then?

Jones: Well, the sheriff has multiple roles, actually. It's very unique and different from that of a police department or a local municipality in that the sheriff's office has a jail. And traditionally each county only has one jail, and the sheriff's office is responsible for the courthouse, and is the enforcement wing of the courts that’s responsible for service of papers and court orders that are issued in regards to foreclosures and those matters. And then the third aspect of the sheriff's office would be our law enforcement response. So the role of the sheriff is to coordinate those three divisions, to provide police services for the county’s unincorporated areas, to run and manage the jail and then to take care of the courthouse issues of security. And you know it's not a valid court proceeding unless there is a sheriff in the courtroom at the time. So our court security division is very busy as well.

Illinois Public Media: And are you in favor of pretrial diversion programs for nonviolent offenders that would allow individuals to remain free during their duration of the criminal proceedings while meeting certain conditions?

Jones: I have absolutely no objection to pretrial diversion processes. Very specifically in the case of your question to nonviolent offenders who have a non-violent history that would be appropriate. A matter of fact, it's coming. The state of Illinois, the Administrative Office of the Courts, has already started pilot programs throughout the state and indicated that that's very likely to be coming down the road. The challenge with that, though, is it's kind of an unfunded mandate. Which office of the county was going to be responsible for the observation or the management? Is that a probationary item that goes through the court services and probation piece? Or is that a part of the sheriff's office? But either way you know managing presents some challenges. It would take some adjustments here. And I think all in all, when you look at what is done in Champaign County now with court being held every day, we're fairly close to where we want to be with limiting the pretrial population. There may be some values received from a pretrial diversion program, but that remains to be seen how we put it together.

Illinois Public Media: And how do you plan to foster better relationships with between law enforcement and minority communities that they serve?

Jones: The challenge in law enforcement is to reach out constantly. The buzz phrase is ‘community policing.’ And I think, from a law enforcement administrator, the issue for us is to find ways to relate. And that has to happen at the base level. You'll find me in my role as the chief deputy now at many different public events and having that communication. And when I go out and about I see the local chief of police from Champaign or Urbana. We're all out having those interactions. But the trust has to be earned at the bottom, at the patrol level, at the base level and build from there. Each of our jurisdictions carry with it a different minority population. The sheriff's office does the majority of the rural law enforcement. It's not in the cities of Champaign or Urbana but for an assisting role. Having said that, I think it's important for communications opportunities, evaluation of hiring practices, and looking at ways to encourage our members in our agency to find ways to take whatever steps necessary to kind of bridge that gap. And I think that's the future. I think that's where we're going.

Illinois Public Media: And what are your views on the cash bail system? Are you in favor of it or do you believe it should be reformed?

Jones: You know, I don't know that I have a horse in that race. The cash bail system is set up by law. There's a recent law that did a reform on that, and essentially provides $30 a day credit for every day a person's in jail, and they remove that from from a person's bond amount. And we've studied that, and over the first six to eight months of that process, the impact upon us was negligible as far as folks getting out with that credit. You know I think there's more work that needs to be done in the legislature to try to accomplish their goal. It may have had some good intentions, but it ended up being a whole lot more work for the jail staff to try to keep track of whose bond amount, how many days they've been in jail, when they should be released. You certainly don't want people to be over detained. Essentially, people are getting paid to stay in jail on some low level bond amounts.

Now, Champaign County has addressed this in a different way. The judiciary, in addition to having the bail hearing or the first appearance, they also schedule a follow up for any of those category of offenses. So there's another hearing right away, immediately after the first day or two to see is this person able to post bond. Is this something that they can do, something they need? And the judge will then actually review the status of the inmate at that point in time. So, I think there's some room to improve the law that they've created, that bail reform issue. But whether or not it's the best scenario, I think there's a lot of other folks smarter than me who might be able to work through that.

Illinois Public Media: And what do you think should be done about the county's two jail system?

Jones: We have two buildings, and they basically have to function as a left hand and a right hand scenario. When the satellite jail was built, it was built without the ability to be the lone jail. There wasn't enough program space, there's not enough individual housing or segregation or separation space. A matter of fact, for the longest time, the women remained in the downtown facility and it was a male only facility, the satellite jail. That also presents a challenge for our management of our staff. We have to have staff and leadership or supervision at two different facilities as opposed to having all of our operations under one. And the other piece that's sometimes lost in the translation is that the downtown jail is actually the entire sheriff's office, the law enforcement division, the evidence, the business office, all of our warrants paperwork. Everything is all housed there.

Ideally, we end up closing the downtown facility, which means closing the downtown jail and the sheriff's office. Before that could happen, we're going to need the county board to work with the county executive and find a place for the sheriff's office proper to be, evidence storage and ability for us to work, interview and have space for our operation. In addition, we need to add on to the satellite jail to increase the capacity to pick up the beds that are being used at the downtown jail. Doing this would allow us then to have both male and female, all brands and categories of classifications of inmates in whatever stance that they're in, program space that would be appropriate for all of them at the same time. Right now, you only have one program running at a time. So you remodel, add on to the satellite jail, relocate the sheriff's office. That should give them the opportunity to deal with the downtown jail and that property and location as they see fit.

Illinois Public Media: So you would be in favor of expanding the satellite jail to accommodate more beds and also more programming activities?

Jones: Yes. So, essentially there's 300 or so beds at the two facilities combined. The satellite jail has a 180. We do not need to get back to that total number of 300 that we have. What we do need, though, is we've studied our peak numbers and what's the most we've had over the course of a year what's the least we've had and what we've determined is that we don't have enough beds in the satellite jail alone to maintain any of our populations that we've had over the past several years. Primarily because what would normally be a two bed cell, if there's one person in it who cannot be housed with anybody else for medical, mental health or violence or whatever the issue may be, you've now lost a bed. So adding about 60 to 80 beds, and the specific type of beds that allow for medical classification, segregation, to kind of reformat the entire setup that we have out there and some remodelling would now give us the ability to have two different program rooms going on at the same time, some individual cells that are specifically targeted toward the medical and or the mental health treatment, and those providers who would be housed or their offices would be in that area.

So it's kind of a bit of a process of working through identifying what the needs are. We spent a lot of time looking at that. We feel real comfortable with the numbers that we're talking about, and again, it's not a bed for bed replacement. It's not build more cells than what we have now, or even as many as we have now.

Illinois Public Media: And to what extent should the sheriff's department cooperate and communicate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers.

Jones: Well, the sheriff's office will follow what we're required to do in regard to fingerprints. We take our fingerprints. We submit them through that process. And then when we hear back from a federal law enforcement agency or another police agency, and they're asking for the status of information that's publicly displayed on our website, we will cooperate with those law enforcement agencies, share that information as necessary. We don't house detainees based on any other document than a warrant issued by a judge or a valid arrest charge that's presented by a local law enforcement agency. We don't house inmates from other jurisdictions. Specifically, we don’t have contracts with ICE or any other agency to house federal inmates, the U.S. Marshals in particular. We only house Champaign County residents.

Illinois Public Media: So you would not house anyone solely on the basis of their immigration status because ICE requested it? You would need a warrant to do that?

Jones: The only reason a person would be detained in the Champaign County Jail would be on a valid state charge or a valid warrant. Should ICE be able to bring a person to Champaign County and say, ‘we'd like you to hold this person based on immigration status,’ we would say, ‘OK, do you have an arrest warrant? Give us the valid documentation to allow that to happen.’ If that were the case, if there was a valid warrant, then we would. However, without a valid warrant or the appropriate documents for detention, no, we would not.

Illinois Public Media: So, my understanding of what's happening currently is that there is some communication between ICE officers and Champaign County Sheriff's Department officials. ICE will ask when is this person going to be released from custody. And it seems that that information is provided. There is some communication going on between the sheriff's department and ICE officers in terms of when people will be released from custody.

Jones: That's very likely.

Illinois Public Media: And is that something you would support continuing to do?

Jones: Cooperation with federal law enforcement agencies and local law enforcement agencies would continue. It's public information. You could call in and ask when an individual is going to get out of jail. So, you know, if somebody has a valid need for the information that information will be provided, yes.

Illinois Public Media: And what is the biggest challenge facing this sheriff's department right now, and how do you plan to address that?

Jones: The biggest challenge facing the sheriff's office is what to do with the downtown jail and how to resolve the issues that we have surrounding the jails.

We have in our community an issue with opioid overdoses, a significant impact upon that portion of our population. Some folks are addicted because of prescription medication, others from illicit drug use alone. And it's taking a significant toll on our community. Our deputies carry Narcan now, which is a reversal agent that's used for heroin overdoses. We want to continue to partner with whichever group, substance abuse, law enforcement, medical, public health — however, we can to try to take the edge off of that and encourage the reduction of those deaths and overdoses there.

There is a significant problem with gun violence in the streets of Champaign-Urbana. Recently, Champaign’s police department issued a list of individuals that are identified as gang members, or are specifically and likely responsible for a lot of the violence. The sheriff's office will continue to work with the local police agencies to partner for ways to address that violence. So when you add in the justice system itself and how we deal with the jail, the issues with the opioids, and the the gun violence, there are some significant challenges and opportunities to face as the sheriff's office moves forward in the next four years.

Illinois Public Media: And why do you think you are the most qualified person running for this position?

Jones: The sheriff's office is a $12 million dollar agency with 150 something employees. It is five different bargaining units with those employees. I have 28 years experience in the sheriff's office. The last six of which have either been the jail administrator or the chief deputy. The chief deputy runs the agency when the sheriff is absent. What I'd point out is that I have the experience. I've had the opportunity to demonstrate that leadership and we've worked together in the community to provide solutions across many different aspects, whether it be from mental health evaluations and substance abuse evaluations in the jail, working in the community to provide more mental health and substance abuse resources there, crisis intervention training to law enforcement officers. The experience and the leadership that I've been able to bring in the role as chief deputy has essentially, I believe, set me in a great position to be elected as the sheriff of Champaign County.