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Jail overcrowding costly for DeKalb County

Women inmates are seen Tuesday at the DeKalb County jail in Sycamore. Some of the inmates sleep on the floor because of the overcrowding conditions at the jail.
Women inmates are seen Tuesday at the DeKalb County jail in Sycamore. Some of the inmates sleep on the floor because of the overcrowding conditions at the jail.

SYCAMORE – The amount of inmates at the DeKalb County Jail this year is slightly less than last year, but Jail Commander Lt. Joyce Klein predicts it will be about the same in the end.

Between January and April, the county jail has seen an average of 134 inmates a day. Last year, the county jail averaged 136 inmates a day, while in 2011 it was 141 a day.

The jail has been over capacity for the past five years with the exception of three days in 2009, Klein said in an email. The jail’s capacity is 89 inmates.

Corrections Deputy Bethany Rowan is feeling the squeeze of the inmate population as well. She said the limited number of holding cells the jail has makes it difficult for the staff to accommodate inmates. Transporting inmates to other jails in neighboring counties such as Boone and Kendall to alleviate the overcrowding has become the norm.

“That’s just another part of the day,” Rowan said.

Klein said she estimates the cost of transporting inmates to other jails in times when there is overcrowding is about $70,000 a year. She said it’s hard to come up with an average as there are many factors to consider such as the number of inmates being transported and the officers who have to move them.

The cost of transporting inmates is not as expensive as housing inmates at other jails. According to the 2012 Sheriff’s Annual Report, the DeKalb County jail has spent about $4.9 million since 2004 to house inmates at other jails. Last year, the county spent about $1 million to house inmates at other jails because of overcrowding.

Klein said there are many reasons why the jail is overcrowded. She said the county has seen a population increase, new criminal offenses requiring jail time and more severe penalties for criminal offenses.

“It becomes more difficult, not only because of the overcrowding, but also because of the type of inmate we’re getting,” Klein said.

She said the jail has received a significant amount of inmates with mental health issues. Many of these inmates need to be in separate cells, which the jail lacks.

“We’re not a mental facility, we’re not equipped with dealing with those types of people,” Rowan said.

Inmates who face crimes that carry more substantial penalties – such as multiple years in prison – will often stay in the jail longer as they try to avoid being sent to prisons.

Since 2011, the jail has been working with Dennis Kimme from Kimme and Associates to expand the capacity of the jail. Klein said about 60,000 square feet is planned for the expansion and the project is budgeted to $27 million.

The right type of space would be needed for inmates who are mentally ill or suicidal, she said. Space would also be needed for inmates who require detoxification or disciplinary action.

The jail is still waiting for funding to create more space. Klein said the funding is tied to Waste Management’s project to expand a landfill in Cortland. The project has been delayed because Stop the Mega-Dump, a group opposed to the landfill, filed an appeal against the DeKalb County Board’s decision to expand the landfill. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the appeal Wednesday.

In the meantime, the costs of funding the expansion could increase as the materials needed become more expensive, Klein said.

“Less bricks and mortar for the kind we could have got a couple of years ago,” Klein said.

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