Sheriff: Jail consolidation plans, hiring are ‘full steam ahead’

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Champaign County’s first Democratic sheriff since 1934 was sworn into his second term at the county courthouse Thursday.

Sheriff Dustin Heuerman is the first democrat to take the oath of office since former Sheriff Fred Shoaf held the office for one term from 1930-1934. Sheriff Heuerman did so alongside first-term Democratic County Executive Steve Summers, solidifying a continuation of the blue wave that first hit the county in 2018.

“This was the test. Four more years, obviously, I made it,” Heuerman said as he thanked those who attended, including Champaign Police Chief Tim Tyler and interim Urbana Police Chief Richard Surles.

He felt more confident in his uniform as he stood in front of the judge and raised his right hand the second time around, Heuerman said in an interview following the ceremony.

Big decisions and changes at Sheriff’s Office were naturally slowed over the last six months in case of reversals if he wasn’t elected, he explained, but now that it’s all official, it’s “full steam ahead.”

Heuerman, who received 56% of the vote, was given another four years at the helm of the sheriff’s office and county jail, and a chance to finish what he started.

The largest ongoing project is the consolidation of the Champaign County jail facilities in Urbana.

After a decade-long, $20 million debate, in 2021 the Champaign County Board approved Heuerman’s plea to close the increasingly run-down downtown jail and expand the satellite jail in its place. He expected Thursday to see that project through by the end of 2024.

“We don’t have a date yet. But we are to that point to where I’m getting a little more excited about it actually occurring in the next couple of years,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office would need to hire 10 to 15 more correctional officers to adequately staff the new facility, including existing gaps, Heuerman estimated.

“The last thing I want is a consolidated facility and no staff to run it. And so that is really going to be on the forefront of what our priorities are this year,” he added.

“As well as keeping the employees that we currently have because we, as a county, can’t necessarily offer the same salary that other municipalities can here locally. And so we’re really competing with that.”

When asked what steps he is and will be taking to appeal to potential officers, he said the office leans on its “workplace culture.”

“Our first step is getting people in the door, and then once they get in the door, they realize what a good position it is,” Heuerman said.

“Corrections has really been hit hard over the last couple of years and that culture really needs to be brought up. And that will be something that we will start working on as well.”

Two new correctional officers were recently sworn in, and another three are expected to be within the next couple of weeks, he said.

“And that is all just helping with the mental health and helping with the overtime and things at the satellite jail, which in turn means that it’s a better place to work.”

The jail is slated for completion sometime in 2024. The county board signed off on the plans several months ago, and at the last meeting on Nov. 17, approved a contract with Normal, Illinois-based commercial construction company P.J. Hoerr, Inc. and $20 million in bonds.