SYCAMORE – A little more than two years after construction began, inmates finally have been moved into the expanded DeKalb County Jail.
Joyce Klein, chief of corrections for the jail, said the expansion already is helping a decades-old overcrowding problem in the jail. With the new addition, inmate and staff belongings are less cluttered, and there’s a place for everything now, she said.
“Everybody was on top of each other,” Klein said of the jail before the expansion.
After spending weeks reclassifying more than 100 inmates and sorting them into appropriate areas within the old part of the jail and the new part, Klein said inmates recently were moved into the new building after construction began for the project in June 2016.
Klein said the new jail houses minimum-security inmates, inmates who have yet to be classified, the mental health unit, the discipline unit, inmates with special needs other than psychological needs, long-term inmates, and trustees and inmate workers. She said the old jail now houses maximum-security inmates, medium-security inmates, work-release inmates, women and more minimum-security inmates.
As of Sept. 4, there were a total of 120 inmates in the DeKalb County Jail, Klein said. Of those inmates, about 35 were returned to DeKalb County after they temporarily were placed in Kendall and Boone counties.
The expansion increased the total number of beds in the jail to about 140. During a tour of the new jail in May, Klein said it could gain about 60 more cells in the future that couldn’t immediately be added because of a lack of funding.
Klein clarified the hope was to have booking within the new jail open before July 4 and not have inmates move into the expansion until late July. She said booking actually was open by mid-July, and the order of operations in the move-in process was a little backed up from there.
“But we were still on a pretty good timeline, we thought,” Klein said.
Review of new jail costs
The total cost of the jail expansion was $36 million, DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson said. He said it’s too soon to tell whether the project will come out over or under budget considering about $28,000 in other miscellaneous costs, including an exhaust fan problem within the new jail.
“Hopefully, we’ll have something extra,” Hanson said.
The project still had more than $25,000 left in its $900,000 contingency budget in April, even after the DeKalb County Building Commission approved an extra $7,325 to replace already installed valves controlling water flow to inmate cells that had traces of lead in them. The contingency budget originally was set at about $663,000, which was before an initial bond issue from the county was moved to the leeway fund and allowances from Excel Electric, Stark & Son and Waukegan Steel added about $28,000 more.
In June 2017, the county issued about $33 million in bonds at a 3.6 percent interest rate for the project. Tipping fees – or a charge for waste haulers to dump trash – from Waste Management’s landfill near Cortland were set to cover about 90 percent of the annual payments, after it covers 100 percent of the cost in the first 10 years, Hanson said.
Hanson said that still will be the case even after the city of DeKalb recently switched its disposal service provider. He said the landfill will pay for the remainder of the bonds, then new jail operations once the bonds are paid off, and whatever’s left over will go to a new radio communication system for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.
The landfill expansion has resulted in 500 tons of additional trash being dumped at the site a day. Sales tax proceeds will cover the remaining 10 percent of the cost to repay the bonds over 30 years.
Inmates weigh in
Inmates Wendell Lewis Jr., 38, of Malta, Lester Walker, 23, of DeKalb, and Daniel Chavez, 27, of DeKalb all are part of the jail’s trustee program, which also expanded with the new jail being built, Klein said. In the old jail, there were about three or four trustees; in the new jail, there are about seven, Klein said.
Walker said the first difference that comes to mind between the old and new jail is the smell. He said it feels as though there’s more space for everyone in the new jail and that everything seems to be in good condition.
“There’s a lot more room where we can breathe,” Walker said.
Chavez said there’s a lot of noticeable improvements within the new jail compared with the old jail. Not only can everyone move around a little more easily, but there’s more natural light and better food in the expansion, he said.
“It’s a whole lot better, I would say,” Chavez said.
Lewis said nobody likes jail, first of all. However, deputies are relatively nice and everything is pretty clean, he said.
“There are a lot of days where we don’t feel like inmates,” Lewis said.