EDWARDSVILLE — Unless you have been arrested in Madison County, you probably haven't observed the lineup of police cars outside the Madison County Jail.
For security reasons, a police car bringing a prisoner into the jail must enter a garage called the sallyport. Both the outside garage door and the inside door are sealed before the car door is opened to let the prisoner out, so he can't make a run for it.
But the Madison County Jail, designed in the late 1970s, has only one sallyport. It holds one car at a time, and sometimes there are many cars waiting to offload prisoners.
"At times it looks like O'Hare Airport out there," said Sheriff Bob Hertz. "Thirty years ago, this was OK. ... Now this is one of the things we need to address."
The Madison County Jail had a capacity of 100 prisoners when it opened in 1980. A decade later it was renovated, and before 2000 it was expanded again to create two more cellblocks for a total of 300 prisoners, and the female infirmary was converted into a dormitory wing for smaller, more timid prisoners who might become targets in the general population.
But now the average population is 252 prisoners a day, and support systems like the infirmary and cafeteria are becoming inadequate, Hertz said.
The increase in prisoner volume is partly due to growing population in the county and a rise in crime, but Hertz said the biggest reason for the increase has been improvements in law enforcement. Police officers are better educated with college degrees, are more well-trained and resolve crimes at a higher rate than when he began his career decades ago, he said.
"The key thing is the professionalism of law enforcement," Hertz said. "I can see it here, I've lived through it here. They're more focused and better educated."
Last year, the jail's prisoners were 75 percent male and 25 percent female. The average stay is about one week, mostly short-term prisoners who are quickly bailed out, petty criminals serving sentences of less than a year, or felony prisoners awaiting trial.
However, the jail is not as crowded as it once was. The jail processed 6,374 prisoners in 2012, but five years ago it was 7,795. The highest point was in 2003, with 9,031 prisoners.
Still, the jail has usually passed its inspections by the state, including its most recent inspection in November. "They don't care how big or small the facility is, but they frown on prisoners sleeping on the floor," Hertz said. "We didn't know the population would run 300 within 30 years. ... We're constantly shuffling the deck here."
There are a number of areas that cry out for renovation, expansion or other improvement, Hertz said, and he hopes the county will help with a major renovation this year.
One of the major issues is the infirmary, which once had two sick cells for ill inmates to be isolated from the rest of the jail population. They have long since been taken over by the need for more space, which means sick inmates must remain with the general population and risk infecting other prisoners.
"The clientele we have coming in here are generally not people who have addressed their health care needs," said Bobbi Unfried, a nurse on duty at the jail. Some of the women might be pregnant, and diabetes is common. On an average day, Unfried said she might have 32 out of 240 prisoners on sick call, and at any given time she will have 10 prisoners going through drug detoxification.
"We detox everyone; no one goes cold turkey," she said. "It's too dangerous."
The infirmary shower is now a storeroom, and the infirmary cells have become exam rooms, storage and what little desk space can be found for the nurses on duty each day and a doctor twice a week.
The jail staff have found ways to double up on space. The state requires a jail library with law books for prisoner access, which Hertz said is rarely used. Therefore it doubles as a videoconference room to allow most prisoners to do their initial appearances in court via a web camera, with a judge on the other end.
That saves them the need to transport dozens of prisoners every day to the courthouse, Hertz said. Last year the "video court" processed 3,840 court appearances, with another 2,528 that required physical presence in court.
Among other issues Hertz said must be addressed:
* The processing area can only handle one prisoner at a time, while the rest wait in two small holding cells. At high-traffic times, there can be 15 or more inmates crammed into a holding cell waiting to be fingerprinted and photographed. An adjacent bathroom was converted into desk space, which is at a premium in the jail.
"It's a shoehorn operation that could be run more efficiently if it were designed better," Hertz said.
* Every hallway and blank wall is lined with filing cabinets holding more than 81,000 prisoner files, still kept on paper. The jail needs immediate access to those files when prisoners arrive, Hertz said, and the cost of scanning all those files into a database would be daunting.
"I don't see us going completely paperless in the near future," Hertz said.
But the original jail design only had one small room for document storage, so now the cabinets appear in every room and hallway.
* There is no cafeteria. The kitchen feeds two cold meals and one hot meal per day for 230 prisoners, cooked and cleaned by trustee prisoners. It's the same kitchen designed for 100 people, with a freezer storage unit on the parking lot outside. Dry goods are stored in what used to be the inmate commissary.
* There are only two segregation cells on each side for inmates who are extremely violent, suicidal or otherwise need to be isolated. Those cells are almost always full, Hertz said, and sometimes a male prisoner will need to be isolated in the female segregation cells.
* The day rooms in each cell block have deteriorated, with rust and peeling paint.
* The laundry has only two industrial washers and dryers, which run nearly constantly. The female laundry room has been converted to filing storage.
* The visitors' area does not have enough space for the number of visitors that arrive at any given day. Visitation is staggered by cellblock and numbers are restricted, but still there will be people waiting in line, Hertz said.
The renovation proposal is still in its first steps. Hertz is meeting with architect firm AAIC to go over options, which he will present to the building and finance committees at the County Board.
Until then, no one knows how much it will cost or what form the renovation will take. But County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said he supports the sheriff's effort to update the jail.
"That jail was designed more than 40 years ago and we do not have the population for which it was designed," Dunstan said. "Some things like the kitchen are not designed even for the capacity we have today. ... We need to make it more modern, more up to date."
Dunstan said the original jail bonds have about $1.2 million outstanding, set to abate in 2014. If the county renews them for whatever amount needed to renovate the jail, Dunstan said the work could be done without increasing the tax rate.
In fact, Dunstan said it might help the county. Currently Madison County has a AA credit rating.
"Why can't we get a AAA rating? Because we haven't borrowed money lately," Dunstan said. "When we renew those jail bonds, I'm hoping it gives Madison County a AAA rating."
In the meantime, Hertz and his deputies continue to make do with the space they have. The prisoners do most of the work cleaning and maintaining the jail, which Hertz said they often welcome; it is the only break they get from sitting in the cellblock all day.
Some prisoners have even found ways to make it their own. A recently vacated cellblock was lined with newspaper pages of last year's World Series playoff games, following the St. Louis Cardinals' attempt to win another championship. Some long-gone prisoner tore more newspaper into narrow, even strips taped to the ceiling, a temporary decoration in their temporary home.
"The (Department of Corrections) uses this facility as a model of how to get things done if you think creatively," Hertz said. "But there is going to have to be some original space created. ... We can't shuffle this deck any further."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2501.