Greenlight given on plans to improve staffing, safety at Champaign County jails

Local News

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA)– The Champaign County Board signed off on Sheriff Dustin Heuerman’s half-million-dollar request.

That number is the sum of two requests that he hopes will fix a critical situation at the jails.

Sheriff Heuerman shared his concerns in a letter to the board in July. Nearly a month later, he got the green light.

The money was allotted to move 70 inmates from the downtown Champaign County Jail to other counties for the rest of the year, and some of it was set aside for a sign-on bonus for new corrections officers.

The goal is to make conditions safer at the downtown jail and get over the worst staffing situation ever at both the downtown and satellite jails.

When Heuerman made his plea for financial assistance last week, Champaign County jails had 12 openings for corrections officers. That’s worse than the sheriff anticipated it would be by the end of July.

“This is a lot of money. I’m a taxpayer too, right? I don’t want money to go to something we can avoid,” he shared at the August 10 Committee of the Whole meeting. “But I truly believe we are at a point to where we can’t continue the way we’ve been continuing, and we’ve got to take action on this.”

Thursday night, the board officially approved a sign-on bonus for corrections officers. The plan would be to give incoming hires $2,500 upfront, and another $2,500 after they fulfill a three-year contract.

Heuerman estimated it will cost nearly $75,000 in total over three years. The Champaign County Board approved $40,000 for the 2021 Fiscal Year.

The biggest chunk of additional appropriations is set to go toward moving a large portion of inmates from the downtown jail. It’s all a part of a bigger plan to close the jail and consolidate everything into an expanded version of the existing satellite jail.

While that is being planned, $494,100 was approved for the moving process.

“We cannot let our employees be in that environment. We cannot let our inmates be in that environment,” Heuerman said in his comments to the committee last week.

A couple of board members have said the jail needs to close right away. Member Stan Harper from Ogden said if the county has to continue to cover the cost of housing inmates in other counties, the price tag would be $2 million a year.

The approved money will cover the last few months of this year. Sheriff Heuerman said what happens after that is up to the board.

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