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McLean County Jail Expansion Seeks 'Softer' Feel For Special Needs Inmates

McLean County officials cut the ribbon Tuesday on a nearly $40 million jail expansion.

Sheriff Jon Sandage said the 213-bed addition is still a few weeks from being ready. Construction began in spring 2017.

Sandage said the jail addition will provide a more comforting environment for mentally ill inmates. That was a major push to expand the facility.

Those inmates have largely been housed in the booking area.

“It’s noisy, it’s well lit 24 hours a day,” Sandage said. “The mental health unit is a quieter place and it’s conducive to them being able to relax and hopefully get on the road to recovery.”

McLean County Jail
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT
The detainee rooms in the McLean County Jail addition's special needs unit are intended to provide a 'softer' feel for mentally ill inmates.

Sheriff Jon Sandage led a tour of the addition for county officials and the media Tuesday.

He showed the special needs pod, which has cells that include “softer” features, including doors with a wood grain finish and additional seating along with a bed and less steel framework in the detainee rooms.

“We are attempting to normalize the environment they are in,” County Administrator Bill Wasson said following the tour.

“It is intended to provide a softer, less commercial type environment and hopefully an environment that will not distract or detract from an individual’s treatment.”

Sandage said the addition's pod format allows for more direct supervision with reduced staffing. He noted one security guard could supervise up to 76 inmates at a time.

“Our old linear part of the jail was more staff intensive,” Sandage said. “With the director supervision part of it, it’s very efficient using staff.”

He added all jail staff has undergone direct supervision training.

Sandage said construction is down to final cleanup and should be ready to start accepting inmates in December.

“I hope they appreciate it. Nobody ever wants to be in jail, but we are giving them a safe environment and hopefully they take care of it,” Sandage said. “We never want them to come back but I think we are doing a good job of providing housing for them.”

Jail Visitors

McLean County Jail
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT
McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage displays a station where a video monitor will be positioned to enable inmates to videoconference with loved ones.

The new visitors center will include 16 videoconference units to enable inmates to visit with loved ones without the additional security hurdles required for visitation. The jail will no longer allow in-person visits with family and loves ones. Inmates will only be able to meet with an attorney.

There will be additional videoconference units located throughout the jail.

The expansion will nearly double the numbers of beds in the county lockup.

Wasson said it’s too early to say whether the county could use the additional space to house inmates from other counties.

“Any other conversations about housing additional inmates would be a long way down the road,” Wasson said.

McLean County has had to transfer inmates to other counties because of a shortage of beds. Wasson said the county might still need to move inmates during the transition to the new facility.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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