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Champaign County Jail Reduces Population To Decrease Risk Of COVID-19 Spread

The Champaign County Correctional Center and Sheriff's Office in downtown Urbana.

URBANA – None of Champaign County’s 91 COVID-19 cases reported as of Thursday have involved staff or inmates at the County jail, according to Champaign County Sheriff Dustin Heuerman.

As part of an effort to reduce the jail population during the COVID-19 pandemic, Heuerman said he’s been coordinating with local police officers to reduce jail bookings.

One approach involves issuing “notice to appear” tickets, or NTAs, for non-violent crimes whenever possible.

“NTAs aren’t ideal for violent offenses or those who might pose a risk to the community, so those types of intakes are still coming in,” Heuerman said. 

At end of the day, he says, the goal is to find a good balance between employing techniques to reduce the jail population and keeping the community safe.

As a result of this collaboration with other law enforcement agencies in Champaign County, Heuerman said the average number of daily jail intakes dropped from 15 per day to 4 per day within the last month.

Heuerman said he also worked with the State’s Attorney’s office to reduce the jail population by 20% by releasing inmates not accused of violent crimes who might be more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The current “under roof” inmate population at the two Champaign County jail facilities is 142. The downtown jail and the satellite jail have a combined capacity of 295 inmates. Fifteen inmates are currently serving sentences on electronic home detention.

Corrections employees and all new inmates are screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon entering the jail. New inmates are also quarantined for 14 days before entering the general population.

Additional efforts to minimize exposure to COVID-19 inside the jails include: limiting unnecessary access to the jails by interns and program facilitators, educating inmates on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, reducing inmate movement within facilities and issuing masks that inmates are required to wear when they need to leave their housing unit.

Heuerman says inmates always have access to free water and soap in their cells and are encouraged to wash their hands frequently, which is recommended by local and state public health agencies and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Beyond the jail, police officers throughout Champaign County are provided personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, to wear when interacting with the public, Heuerman says.

Officers have also been provided guidance for proper hygiene with uniforms, and are encouraged to either change at work at the end of their shift, or change out of their uniform in a separate room at home before interacting with family members.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman

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Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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