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McLean County board member Paul Segobiano talks about the purpose of the new addition to the McLean County jail at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, at the downtown Bloomington building. Segobiano said the facility will vastly improve care and housing of the jail population, adding, "It was the right thing to do."

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.

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."

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Normal Township board member Sally Pyne tours cells in the new jail addition, which provides improved phone and video conferencing for inmates so they can visit with their families more frequently.

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."

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McLean County officials look at an exercise room in the mental health unit Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, at the new addition to the county jail, noting it was built to maximize natural lighting.

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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McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage talks about improved video conferencing in the mental health unit of the new addition to the McLean County Jail Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

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.

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The exterior of the new addition to the McLean County jail displays a change in architectural design from the old jail. The new facility improves mental health care and improves housing for female inmates in a $39 million facility.

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.

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McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage, left, and board member Paul Segobiano talk about completion of the expanded jail during a ribbon cutting Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

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.

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Contact Edith Brady-Lunny at (309) 820-3276. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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