BLOOMINGTON — McLean County officials cut the ribbon Tuesday on a $39 million jail addition, a facility designed to provide better services to mentally ill and female inmates and provide a cushion for future growth in the inmate population.
McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre told the audience attending the ceremony that the project represents "a culmination of a vision, of an expression of need for proper care of mentally ill inmates, as expressed by former Sheriff Mike Emery."
The shortfall in care is "a historic need that's been a need for a long time and should have been dealt with a long time ago," he said.
In his last public event as a member of the County Board, Paul Segobiano said the jail addition with its special needs unit "was the right thing to do. People are in the facility for a reason. We now have a much better and humane facility."
Board member Susan Schafer noted that "most county jails are the largest mental health institutions in the community," adding McLean County officials made the decision to address that pressing issue.
"We're the envy of a lot of communities. We had the political will to not only complete this project, but also develop a Mental Health Action plan for the community," said Schafer.
Sheriff Jon Sandage thanked county staff, general contractor River City Construction, the Farnsworth Group and all those who played a played a part in the project.
The jail addition "is a state-of-the-art correctional facility," said Sandage, that will provide help to "to some of our most vulnerable inmates."
A portion of the funding for the facility came from an increase in the sales tax collected in Bloomington and Normal. The funds earmarked for community mental health "is money well spent," said Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner.
Jail Superintendent Jamie Kessinger said "the absolute greatest change" that will begin with the first wave of inmates is an ability to properly classify inmates for housing units.
"This is a whole new way of doing business," Kessinger said of the new space that allows staff to house inmates with similar traits and criminal backgrounds together.
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The need to address housing and treatment for mentally ill inmates was recognized in 2012 by Emery as the 14 cells designed for booking new inmates became a de facto mental health unit. The National Institute of Corrections, the agency that helped McLean County to address chronic jail overcrowding that cost the county over $700,000 in out-of-county housing costs in 2008, provided the county with recommendations on the mental health deficiencies.
The NIC report included a recommendation that the county expand and improve mental health services and strengthen the transition process for inmates as they leave jail and return to the community. The County Board's mental health plan developed with the help of two advisory panels outlined a comprehensive overhaul of community mental health services that included the opening of a new crisis center by Chestnut Health Systems.
Robert Porter, counsel for the Public Building Commission that issued bonds for the project, said the job was completed on time and within budget, without any major problems.
"We're in a flagship facility for Illinois" that recognizes the intersection of mental illness and the criminal justice system, said Porter.
The special needs section includes 48 beds for inmates with behavioral issues. Separate areas, known as sub-day rooms, will allow jail staff options for placing inmates with special needs outside their cells in their own area when necessary.
Furnishings with a less institutional design and softer wall colors, combined with a large section of windows in the adjoining indoor recreation area, give the unit a quieter, calmer environment.
A total of 76 cells are available for female inmates who are now housed in the oldest section of the jail. The third floor includes space for 76 cells that can be used for future growth.
The first floor of the 80,000 square foot building is the new visiting area. The area also houses the kitchen and laundry facilities for the jail.
Work has started on remodeling of a portion of the existing jail that will house a medical department. The substantial upgrade to the small medical area will have two observation rooms, two exam rooms, a dentist office and a pharmacy. The new facility is expected to be completed in July.