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McLean County Board Examines Options For Jail Expansion

Overcrowding in the jails has been an issue for many places across Illinois for years, and that’s especially true in McLean County.
BLOOMINGTON - Overcrowding in the jails has been an issue for many places across Illinois for years, and that’s especially true in McLean County.  That lack of space has affected mental health patients as well, as they deal with less space as a result. It’s a big reason why the county started looking for answers on Tuesday night.

"The only area that we have to house them is in our booking area, separate cells, lights are always on. It's the worst place in the county jail to house inmates that have mental illnesses, but we have no options," said Mike Emery, sheriff for McLean County.

Emery presented his National Intelligence Council report to the board on Tuesday, spelling out several different solutions to the jail problem. One solution that Emery supports is to build up on the pods where inmates are currently housed.

"The foundation, the structure is there to do that, but of course that would also increase the overall bed capacity of the jail in addition to creating the mental health unit and possibly a medical unit," said Emery.

Board chairman Matt Sorensen knows the longer the county puts it off the worse things may get. That's why he's delegating the work to each of his committees,

"We're going to ask the justice committee to work their way through the NIC report and decide whether they concur with the findings and the definition of need that the NIC report has presented us with," said Sorensen.

But Sorensen says the cost of sending patients to jail instead of mental health clinics is causing overcrowding.

"An inability or a lack of consistency in delivering those outside services has contributed to the crowding problem," said Sorensen.

Another big issue is the costs of repairs.

"$20, $25, $30 million dollars, would only be 20 year solutions. We, a million dollars a year for a solution to this problem is simply brick and mortar and is not going to be the answer," said Sorensen.

That's why Emery says they need to look ahead.

"In making that decision to go that route, they're looking five, 10, 15 years down the road," said Emery.

Sorensen says it may be at least two to three months until the jail plans could be finalized. He added it might be more than a year until things like construction could actually begin.

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