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County jail expansion likely won’t start until 2016

Published: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott, Republican. has been in office since 1985

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County's jail continues to overflow with inmates, and DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott sees no point in talking further about what needs to be done.

He said it's time for action: Every method to reduce the jail population has been exhausted. All discussions on how to resolve the issue has been made. Now, Scott said, the expansion needs to begin before it becomes too expensive.

"What we have planned is a jail that will meet the needs and help build for the future, but the longer we're stalled on this program, the less we're able to accomplish because of the interest rates going up and costs going up," he said.

Funding for the jail is tied with Waste Management's expansion of the county landfill in Cortland, which is expected to take in about 2,000 tons of trash a day, from which the county will collect increased "tipping fees." Until the landfill expansion is completed and starts accepting trash, which may be early 2015, funds for the expansion of the jail itself will not be available.

That means it could be 2016 before crews could start building the addition to the jail, which sits on the second floor of the Public Safety Building at 150 N. Main St. in Sycamore, Scott said. The county needs a year's worth of the "tipping fees" on hand and approval from the County Board before selling bonds to fund the jail expansion project.

Voters already have rejected proposals to fund the jail expansion through a half-cent sales tax increase in votes in March 2004 and November 2006.

County Administrator Gary Hanson said while county officials are waiting on the Cortland landfill expansion, they will continue to examine the finances for the jail's expansion project.

"We're trying to do some planning things, so once it's done, we're ready to go," he said.

Officials have planned to spend about $27 million adding 60,000 square feet to the 20,000-square-foot jail, which was built in 1980 and was originally designed to house 64 inmates. Double bunking has increased the capacity to 89 inmates, but it's not nearly enough for all the prisoners, officials said.

With the exception of three days in 2009, the jail has been over capacity for the past five years.

Scott is predicting the average number of inmates a day this year will be between 131 to 140, with the county spending more than $1 million to send local inmates to jails in Boone and Kendall counties. Last year, the jail averaged 136 inmates a day; in 2011 it was 141 a day.

Scott said law enforcement officials have tried and continue to try everything to reduce the jail population with the expectation of expanding it. But all signs indicate additional space as the ultimate solution.

"We've been looking at jail study after jail study after 1990, and everything points to the need for the expansion of the jail," he said.

Some of the methods jail officials have tried include electronic home monitoring, weekend bond calls, drug courts, additional judges to expedite courthouse traffic and increased mental health counseling initiatives.

Everyone involved with the jails – inmates, families and jail staff – are under duress with the overpopulation, Scott said.

"When people from DeKalb County want to visit their family and friends in jail, they can't come to Sycamore," Scott said. "They have to try to arrange something else."

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