St. Clair County hires architect firm to design jail expansion

News-DemocratJuly 8, 2013 

— An architectural firm has been hired to design the expansion of St. Clair County Jail to house more violent offenders while meeting state standards.

The county's Public Building Commission on Monday approved hiring Treanor Architects of St. Louis for $140,000 to create expansion and renovation designs for the 43-year-old jail.

A price tag for the project has not yet been determined.

Overcrowded housing conditions at the jail have spurred criticisms from state inspectors and the nonprofit John Howard Association, which provides oversight of the state's prison system.

The jail averaged 443 prisoners per day between mid-May and mid-June, while the jail has a capacity for 418 detainees, according to an inspection from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

A state inspection in March found 502 inmates filled all of the beds, including those in the infirmary, and some were sleeping on mattresses in the jail's gymnasium. The expansion aims to increase the capacity and provide 525 beds for prisoners, not including beds in the jail's infirmary, according to County Administrator Dan Maher.

Expanding the jail will only be part of the project as renovations aim to boost capacity as well. For example, vacant apartments previously used by the sheriff and jail superintendent may be converted into an administrative office.

One of the most important factors in the redesign of the jail will be ensuring the best use of county staff, Maher said.

Over time the cost of manpower is more expensive than building needs, Maher said, and a design allowing the most efficient number of guards to monitor prisoners safely will be the biggest benefit.

Sheriff Rick Watson agreed, saying "in the end this will save the county money."

About 85 percent of the inmates housed in the jail face violent or sex-related charges or other serious charges, according to St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly.

"We have doubled the number of felonies charged from three years ago (2010)," Kelly said. "We continue to take an aggressive approach because it's needed for public safety, which is why we need to deal with jail capacity."

Defendants of lesser crimes are processed as quick as possible and the county has a variety of diversion programs, such as drug court or mental health court, to keep nonviolent prisoners from extended stays in the jail, Kelly said.

The architects plan to come back to the Commission in November with cost estimates and a variety of options, according to Sharon Schmitz with Treanor Architects.

State inspectors have continually warned the county since at least 2005 that housing conditions could spur the Department of Corrections to petition the Illinois Attorney General to force compliance with state standards.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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