Costs rack up for housing inmates outside of the county

By GARY HENRY ghenry@prairiepress.net
Posted 1/20/20

Efforts to get the Edgar County Jail reopened are ongoing, if not always smoothly.

The one certainty is it is costing the county and that was a topic of conversation during the Monday, Jan. 13, …

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Costs rack up for housing inmates outside of the county

Posted

Efforts to get the Edgar County Jail reopened are ongoing, if not always smoothly.

The one certainty is it is costing the county and that was a topic of conversation during the Monday, Jan. 13, Edgar County Board study session.

“Since the jail shut down, we have spent $44,000 for housing prisoners in three jails during December,” said board member Karl Farnham Jr.

That amount does not include the fuel and wear and tear on vehicles transporting those arrested to other jails for housing and subsequently bringing them back for court appearances.

“On one trip when they went to Coles County they needed three or four squad cars,” Farnham stated.

Jail supervisor Jay Willaman confirmed the amount of travel required. He said the sheriff’s department recently had 14 people to bring back for court appearances and then returned to the neighboring jails.

“We were doing a lot of running back and forth,” said Willaman.

He noted some of that may ease a bit since the department recently acquired a used 10-passenger van for transport duty. Willaman said as of Monday a security cage for inside the van had not been installed. As a result, two officers are required for each trip – one person to drive and the other to provide prisoner surveillance.

The local jail closed Dec. 1 after Illinois County Risk Management, the insurer, refused to continue insurance coverage citing problems with lack of management and improper oversight of policy issues. The Illinois Department of Correction (DOC) also threatened legal action because the jail frequently had only one corrections officer on duty when two are required.

Willaman, a retired DOC official, was hired by the county in November to serve as the jail administrator. His stated goal is to get the 1970s era cellblock back up to standards and operating within three months to the satisfaction of the insurance company and DOC inspectors.

County board members and Willaman discussed progress during the study session. Willaman said without prisoners it has been easier for contractors to work in the building and a welder has fabricated new showers that are ready for installation. His problem is the contractors hired to complete the SmartWATT energy efficiency upgrades on all county buildings are under the impression they are only supposed to work on the newer part of the building and not touch the 19th century portion of the structure.

“I thought the jail came first on the list,” said Willaman. “If we don’t open the new and old part, we will still be paying for 10 to 15 inmates in other facilities.”

He added the plumbing repairs at the jail will likely involve more than just replacing parts as much of the old plumbing is worn out and needs removed before substantive improvements can be made.

“The jail was part of the original scope, and it needs to be done although it has been a mess making decisions,” said board member Derrick Lorenzen. “We have a priority in getting our jail open.”

Board member Andy Patrick cleared up some of the issues during the Wednesday, Jan. 15 county board meeting. During the interim between the two meetings he talked with subcontractors and representatives of SmartWATT, who are overseeing the changes.

“They are waiting on plumbing parts for the jail,” said Patrick. “That’s why the revised schedule moved the jail back a bit.”

He added SmartWATT asked for clarification about what the county board wants done at the jail where much of the work was removed from the scope of the project after the decision was made to close the building. With Willaman on board and determined to get as much of the building reopened as possible, some of the shelved work needs to get back on the work order.

Patrick added some confusion about the Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning work at the courthouse was also resolved. Apparently, the drawing provided by SmartWATT lacked the building detail the contractor believed necessary. That issue was fixed when Edgar County Clerk and Recorder August Griffin located detailed drawings of the building created in 1968 for a previous remodeling.

“They (the contractor) said it is a difficult building because of the round design,” said Patrick, acknowledging some confusion has occurred while expressing confidence in the end product. “It’s going to be an efficient, quiet system when it’s done.”

Griffin announced he is moving the polling place from Carolyn Wenz Elementary School to the nearby First United Methodist Church. He noted this action leaves Memorial School in Paris as the last school in Edgar County serving as a polling place and administrators in Paris Union School District 95 want relieved of that responsibility.

Griffin said it is not a matter of just taking the polling place out of the school.

“The law still says if possible to keep polling places in schools because they are public buildings supported by taxpayers,” said Griffin.

Taking the polling place from Memorial School requires finding another building of sufficient size to accommodate multi-precinct voting that is both handicapped accessible and has sufficient parking.

“I’m trying to find something for Memorial,” Griffin said, but added there is not time to make the move prior to the March primary.

He emphasized the county incurs a cost of between $4,000 and $5,000 each time a polling center moves because new voter registration cards must be printed and notice of the change must be mailed to every affected voter.