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McLean County awaits transfer for some jail inmates who are being held in the booking area

Government Center building
Emily Bollinger
The Government Center in downtown Bloomington.

McLean County administrator Cassy Taylor said mentally ill inmates who require 24-hour supervision are still getting the attention and treatment they need despite being held in the booking area because of a shortage of corrections officers.

“We are meeting their needs in regard to medication and observation, but they are not in the right location,” Taylor said in a WGLT Sound Ideas interview.

The county hoped to end that practice when it opened a $43.5 million jail expansion. It included a unit for prisoners with a mental illness.

Taylor said inmates who were found not guilty be reason of insanity or unfit for trial are supposed to be sent by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) to the McFarland Mental Health Center, a psychiatric hospital in Springfield.

“It’s a different setting, it’s a more appropriate setting,” Taylor said. “There is a backlog that is sitting in our McLean County Jail that needs to be transferred.”

IDHS has not responded to a request for comment.

The county also has been housing about 50 inmates per day in LaSalle County for the last month due to a shortage of corrections officers at the McLean County Jail.

Salary study

McLean County government is in the midst of a two-year process to improve salaries after a recent study showed county employees were paid 7% less than counterparts in similar-size counties.

Taylor said the county has increased salaries this year for the most underpaid jobs. That includes nurses and circuit clerk's staff. “It was individualized per employee, but we found that overall we needed to increase that by about 7%,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the county first adjusted the salaries of new hires to help the county remain competitive.

“What we were finding is it was hard in this market to recruit and retain staff and so having those bumps in the salary range did look more attractive to new employees,” Taylor said.

Taylor said in some cases, that's lead to salary inversion, where newer employees are getting paid more than more senior colleagues in county government.

Taylor said next year, the county will boost pay for longer-term workers whose pay increases have lagged behind new hires.

McLean County government has 960 workers (651 fulltime, 282 part-time and 27 elected officials).

Carbon sequestration

Taylor said the water supply will be the county's top priority as it examines whether it can, or should, regulate carbon sequestration wells.

Taylor said the county believes it will have some control over where the wells can be placed. That's where liquefied carbon dioxide is injected deep into the rock underground.

“(We should) make sure that in the case there would be a rip in the pipeline or a problem with any of the well sites that we would have safeguards in place, proper training for our first responders, proper equipment for our first responders,” Taylor said.

Omaha-based Navigator has submitted plans to federal regulators to store carbon dioxide underground. The project might include McLean County. That would require state and federal regulatory approval.

The McLean County Board’s Zoning Board of Appeals next Tuesday will consider a proposal to require a special use permit for any sequestration wells. That would give the county some leeway over where wells are located, but local governments have no say over where pipelines are run.

Mental health action plan

McLean County has been doing more public outreach as its implements its mental health action plan.

Taylor said the county’s Behavioral Health Coordinating Council (BHCC) that includes more than dozens of stakeholders has set up working groups in several areas; criminal justice, crisis, youth, health care access and housing.

“I believe that branching out to the community and including more people in the dialogue and the conversation about what our priorities should be and then setting goals from those priorities is going to be something we can accomplish in a different way,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the pandemic slowed the county's mental health plan development over the last few years.

Corrected: May 5, 2023 at 3:58 PM CDT
This story previously reported an incorrect cost of the McLean County Jail expansion.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.