Community responds to proposed jail renovations

Citizens voiced their concerns about housing and infrastructure issues in the county jails before a meeting of the Champaign County Board on Tuesday.

The board is currently considering a number of options, including whether to remodel the older Downtown Correctional Center in Urbana or demolishing it to build an extension at the newer satellite county jail in Urbana.

If a new addition to the satellite jail were to be built, proposed expansion would be around $15 to $20 million.

Carol Ammons, board member for District 5, spoke on behalf of the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice before the meeting. She said the group would want money that would be spent on the proposed addition to go back into the county for community programs.

“The way to ensure public safety is not through imprisonment but by promoting peace and justice in the community through guaranteeing people’s livelihoods and access to opportunities,” Ammons said.

Community members were concerned with the possibility of money being taken away from community programs. They were also concerned with what they called the disproportionate population of African-Americans in Champaign County jails compared to the total African-American population in the county.

William Sullivan, Urbana resident, said he’d rather see the money go toward education, housing, mental health and job training in order to reduce crime and subsequently incarcerated persons.

“We know that communities where these needs are met have lower crime rates,” Sullivan said.

John Frauenhoffer, a structural engineer, came to answer the board’s questions on what the county would need to take out of the old jail and what repairs could be done with the county’s financial constraints.

Frauenhoffer said the real issue at hand is rather how jails have to act as a mental facility and a hospital, which most counties are having difficulty managing.

Some at the meeting accused board members of not having the best interests of the community in mind.

Tom Betz, vice chair of the board, said he was appalled by some of the remarks made at the meeting.

“It bothers me as a liberal to hear these kinds of statements,” Betz said.

The matter of the county jails will be discussed in further meetings.