Aging Ill. jails seeing issues with strained capacity, outdated facilities

Rising inmate populations have jails close to capacity and scrambling to find space

Nick Draper
Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Ill.

GREENE COUNTY, Ill. — Rising inmate populations have some jails in the region close to capacity and scrambling to find space to segregate inmates when mental health issues arise.

In Greene County, for instance, there were 17 inmates in the 21-inmate-capacity jail on Friday. It would have been 22, according to Sheriff Rob McMillen, but five were transferred to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

“This is the lowest we’ve been in probably a good three months,” McMillen said. “We have extra mattresses in the facility so if for some reason there are not enough beds, we have steel bunk beds. If there’s a person on every bunk, we can give them a mattress and there are a couple spots in the cells that are wide enough for a mattress.”

If the jail is overcapacity, inmates could be released with a notice to appear in court , depending on what the sheriff and the states attorney decide.

Greene County also houses inmates from Scott and Calhoun counties when needed at $50 a day, which can add to the capacity issue.

The inmates who stay at the jail are serious offenders, McMillen explained.

“The ones in our jail now are serious offenders. They’re not [charged with] retail theft or driving on a suspended license,” he said. “We’ve got three people held on murder type charges. The rest are serious drug distribution charges.”

McMillen addressed the issue with the county board and continues to do what he can to work with the facility’s limitations. Ideally, he said he would have a jail with a capacity of 45 to 50 beds.

“This isn’t something that can happen overnight,” McMillen said. “My goal this year is to approach the county and get their stamp of approval to at least start in the planning stages of getting a facility placed in Greene County and have it running in the next four to five years. … If we have to put a referendum out, we’ll have to wait for that to happen and see what the voters would authorize.”

Morgan County’s detention facility, has capacity for 60 inmates, so it doesn’t have the same crowding issue, according to Sheriff Mike Carmody.

“Very rarely do we get 60 inmates,” he said. “We house for Cass and Scott counties and they pay a fee. Currently, we have four out-of-county inmates, but we can get from eight to 10 at times.”

That doesn’t mean the jail couldn’t use updates, such as replacing its electronic locking door system, which hasn’t been updated since its installation in the 1980s.

One issue the jail has seen, is with inmates who have mental health issues, Carmody said.

If the jail houses an inmate with mental health issues, the inmate must be supervised 24 hours a day, with suicidal subjects being checked every 15 minutes. Carmody said the biggest concern with housing an inmate with a mental health issue is the need for separation.

“The building wasn’t designed to be a mental health facility, so we only have one holding cell, a room that we used to house juveniles in when we used to house them 30 years ago. We’ve converted an office into a temporary holding cell,” he said.


©2019 the Jacksonville Journal-Courier (Jacksonville, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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