With the upcoming closure of the County jail in downtown Urbana, the Champaign County Jail Facilities Committee passed a motion last month to fund to health and educational programs in the Champaign County Satellite Jail.
The last master plan for jail renovations was created in 2019. However, the new plan, estimated to cost around $20 million, includes two housing pods for inmates instead of three as well as a refined healthcare area and increased funding for a mental health program. The plan also consists of using geothermal mechanics as part of an environmental sustainable program.
The committee was created this past August after years of planning to renovate the satellite jail. It has held three meetings regarding the closure of the jail as well as how to renovate the satellite jail in order.
Committee members addressed the urgency of moving forward with renovations as quickly as possible throughout these meetings. Issues such as replacing the heating, air, ventilation and cooling systems of the satellite jail were discussed, and designating currently unallocated American Rescue Plan funds specifically to renovate the jail.
The Corrections Division of Champaign County Jail is split between the Satellite Jail, built in 1996, on Lierman Ave. and the Downtown Jail, built in 1980, on Main St. in Urbana. A previous CU-CitizenAccess article discovered how the city failed to implement recommended improvements to the jails for nearly 10 years, citing conditions that were “legally indefensible” according to city documents.
As of Dec. 20, there are 278 people in the county jail system. 130 are at the satellite jail, 65 are at the downtown jail and 83 are being held at another facility. Six months ago, about the same were at the two jails, but only 20 were being held at another facility.
Kyle Patterson, chair of the Champaign County board, has noted specifically that this plan is not a larger debate over the humanity of jails and is not intended to increase incarceration rates. Rather, it is to make changes to the current facilities they have to better the lives of inmates.
“It is important for people to realize that what we’re doing is not an expansion of our jail facilities,” Patterson said. “What we’re doing is closing down a facility and adding it onto another one and it’s not because we require more space, it’s because we require better, safer, space.”
Christopher Store, member of the jail facilities committee, noticed how there were not any plans to renovate the existing healthcare area of the satellite jail for programming and education.
“I think this is a mistake. If we don’t do this, the opportunities for folks that are being incarcerated to benefit from mental health, GRE and mental illness programs help them considerably,” Store said.
After formulating the master plan, it was presented as a motion to the larger Champaign County board. Despite the specialized committee created to draw out an updated plan for the construction process, some board members said they feel as though the community needs to put more time into this decision.
“This feels like a rushed process that is inflicting harm on our community. This is an animated issue specifically for our activist community,” board member Emily Rodriguez said at the meeting.
The main aspects of the plan address the need for increased separation of inmates and extra services for them with the addition of the pods and increased programming space.
“Currently, we don’t have necessary units for proper separation,” Patterson said. “The county has run into a lot of issues with inmates who need to be separated because they’re from opposing gangs, inmates with mental health issues who can’t be around other inmates, inmates who need to be isolated.”
Regarding the closure of Urbana’s downtown jail, Patterson said it has been very difficult to move people to other counties despite funding the sheriff’s office to move the inmates since September.
“It’s been very difficult for them to move people to different counties. Other counties have to agree to take the inmates. As you might expect, they want inmates that are less high maintenance,” he said.
Although Patterson said he hopes to get the inmates moved out soon and move forward with the closure process of the downtown jail by the end of the year, he noted that “logistics” presenting themselves are making this goal seem unlikely.
Patterson said because the planning process is such a long activity, he expects building construction to update the satellite jail to begin by 2023 assuming this updated plan is finalized.