Police & Courts

Adams County starts moving into new jail

By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 24, 2020 12:01 am Updated: May. 24, 2020 12:17 am

QUINCY — No public tours are planned as initially hoped and a dedication isn't planned at this time, but the new $32 million Adams County Jail is gradually becoming operational, more than five years after a committee started exploring how the county could replace its aging facility.

The project is one both Adams County Sheriff Brian VonderHaar and Jail Administrator Chad Downs are glad to see come to an end.

"I just can't explain how much better this is," VonderHaar said.

The Sheriff's Department staff moved into its space on Tuesday. It's projected that inmates will be moved over to the new jail at some point in June. The Quincy Police Department, which will also call the new facility home, moving in before the end of June.

The new facility has a capacity of 192 compared to the 120 prisoners that the current facility can hold spread out over three floors of the Adams County Courthouse.

The most important safety feature in the new jail to VonderHaar and Downs is the sally port, which provides a secure intake of inmates by allowing squad cars to pull into a secure garage.

"Our biggest security risk is bringing prisoners to the back door," VonderHaar said. "Everyone in this county knew where they were coming in."

They then had to be taken to booking on the fourth floor, which is unreachable by elevator, meaning correctional officers occasionally have to carry someone up a flight of stairs.

In the current jail, anyone that arrives and can't immediately bond out must be strip searched, showered and put into a section. The county purchased a body scanner for the new facility.

"As soon as they come out of the vehicle, we'll bring them over here and we'll have them stand right here and look at the bull's-eye," Downs said. "It will take a picture. It shows all the metal. It's not intrusive at all, because it doesn't show any facial features at all. This here will actually show if someone swallows drugs."

The booking area has separate holding areas to allow for those who need to wait to go to bond court.

A negative pressure room, originally built in the event that an inmate has active tuberculous, could be used if someone has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

"It has its own air system, so no one is breathing the same air these people are breathing," Downs said. "Right now we have nothing."

The facility also has an expanded medical office, in-house laundry and larger kitchen to prepare meals.

The jail features eight separate pods that allow correctional officers to classify prisoners and segregate them as needed. The pods are observed from control rooms where doors, lights, TVs and phones are operated with a touchscreen. The new facility also boasts 200 security cameras, more than 10 times the 16 in the current jail.

Each pod includes one cell that is wheelchair accessible, two-bunk cells on the ground floor and four-bunk cells on the mezzanine level

Each pod includes a booth where inmates can meet with their attorney, as well as access to an outdoor recreation area where they can get fresh air.

"In order for it to be considered outdoor rec, which is mandated in any new facility, you have to have fresh air and sunlight," Downs said pointing to security screens that allow the elements in.

General population areas will have a multipurpose room for programming such as GED classes or Alcoholics Anonymous.

Besides the jail space, additional space is available for the Sheriff's Department.

VonderHaar pointed out how the additional space throughout the facility will benefit his department, which would typically need to find an empty courtroom or possibly rent meeting space in town if it needed to have a larger staff meeting or training. An interview room right off the entrance to the new space allows for privacy as they report a crime.

"In the old Sheriff's Department, we didn't have much privacy," VonderHaar said. "It was so open for everybody coming in and out. We have a lot more privacy here now, and it's a little bit more secure."

Both the Sheriff's Department and the Quincy Police Department will each have three interview rooms, with both having access to the other rooms if needed.

Additional shared space in the facility includes locker rooms, a break room and likely evidence storage once a process is developed to share between the two departments.

County Board member Mark Peter, R-5, has been part of efforts to build a new jail for 15 years, with previous attempts exploring grant opportunities in 2005 and 2009.

"Both those times, we were looking for money outside of Adams County to build with, and then when we started this current jail committee, the first meeting we had the first thing we decided we were going to do is get a financing source, as opposed to making more plans without any actual money," he said. "That's when we came up with the quarter-cent sales tax and the bond dedicated to the building of the facility, and after the bonds were paid off, the sales tax sunsets. That was the key component to the 2015 election to almost get a two-to-one favorable vote."

Peter remembers the first time that members of the 21-person committee that advocated for the passage of the public safety tax were taken through the current jail and how that tour helped.

"I think once people could see just what kind of conditions we had, then they were willing to support this project," he said.

The sunset provision was key in his mind to get 67% of voters to approve the referendum in April 2015.

"The first two county officials I talked to ... both of them told me that we were wasting our time, and the citizens would never support an additional tax to build a jail," Peter said.

It took two years after the passage of the referendum for groundbreaking as a design firm had to be selected, a site picked and eventual archaeological work on a portion of the site after human remains were found from a cemetery that was originally on the site.

An agreement between the city and county also had to be reached, which had the city contribute $4 million for construction and $200,000 for building maintenance, as well as the city moving water and sewer utilities and reconstructing Parking Lot D on the south side of Vermont Street east of Sixth Street.

Public meetings in 2016 showed a swell of opposition to building along 48th Street just south of Maine, which led to further examination of building on the courthouse property. Building there required the county to buy several nearby properties, and demolishing the former Health Department space.

"A lot of good people put a lot of work in to get this done," Peter said.

Though the county can't host a public tour as planned, a virtual tour is available on the county's website, co.adams.il.us, showcasing the various features of the facility.

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