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Champaign inmate costs cut, county budget better

Electronic monitoring helps save thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Champaign County’s annual budget has been crippled by too many inmates, but the number of those jailed and the costs of housing them in 2013 were the lowest in over a decade.

Increased electronic monitoring and faster inmate processing are two reasons why, local officials said.

Between 2006 and 2010, the county averaged more than $420,000 in prisoner overage costs — the amount charged for exceeding the number of beds allotted for Champaign County at the Tri-County Jail. However, 2013 was the first year in the last 10 that it dropped to less than $100,000.

“We had one year we had to go through and cut every department a certain percentage of money just to make up for the overages,” Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett said. “By it being turned around where it’s under control and within our limits at the jail, we are more whole now and able to do things how we should do them.”

Corbett credits the collaborative effort of Common Pleas Court Judge Nick Selvaggio, Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi and Tri-County Regional Jail Director Scott Springhetti.

“It’s just such a blessing to have that turned around now,” Corbett said.

Instead of sending a low-level, first-time, non-violent felony drug offender to prison, the court system has started to use electronic monitoring to track their location, according to Talebi.

“It’s a matter of taking a look at our community’s resources, the little amount of resources we have available, and figuring out the best way to spend those resources,” he said.

The Tri-County Regional Jail oversees the ankle monitors, which alerts authorities if someone strays outside of their designated area. The jail is in favor of the monitors because they keep the jail’s numbers down. This also lessens the conflicts in the jail, Springhetti said.

Champaign County Common Pleas Court has 18 ankle monitors, 13 from a grant and five that the court bought last year.

“My goal in my first year in office was to manage the jail population in such a manner as to control costs without sacrificing public safety,” Selvaggio said.

Corbett said the ankle monitors save the county money, upwards of $50 a day per ankle monitor, and believes it’s better for the individual.

“Going to jail, all it does is probably teach them more ways to get more drugs. If they have ankle monitor, we know where they are,” Corbett said.

Another factor that has contributed to the decrease in jail costs was the speed of the court system. In 2013, it took the court on average 1.88 days to turn around a sentencing entry compared to 7.36 days and 8.06 days in 2012 and 2011, respectively.

“By getting the court’s sentencing paperwork out faster, it enables the clerk, sheriff and jail to process the necessary paperwork for them to move inmates in and out of the jail quicker and ultimately move them to their ultimate destinations, whether it be out-of-custody rehabilitation, residential treatment — like the West Central Community Based Correctional Facility — or prison,” Selvaggio said.

Last year, Champaign County paid $96,075 in prison overage cost. The county is allowed 52 beds per day at the Tri-County Jail, and in 2013 the county was over its allotment by 1,674 prisoners. In 2007, the worst year to date, the county was over its allotment by 3,040 prisoners and paid $566,000 in prison overages.

Higher jail populations result in increased inmate medical expenses, and public defender and sheriff’s office costs, which hindered the county’s budget in the past, Corbett said.

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