DuPage returning its work release program to the jail


DuPage's work-release inmates once again will serve time at the county jail after being housed for nearly a decade in another facility.

Sheriff James Mendrick on Tuesday said the change means the county won't have to spend nearly $350,000 to fix the building that currently houses the work release program. The money instead will be used to make security improvements to the jail, including the purchase of new cameras and a full-body scanner.

"This gives us an opportunity to actually improve the jail security and stop contraband from coming in with that body scan," Mendrick said.

The work-release program was moved in 2010 to a former youth home building on the west side of County Farm Road because of crowding in the jail. But Mendrick said the situation was never ideal.

On average, 30 inmates are assigned to work-release at any one time. One sergeant and four deputies were assigned to watch the inmates in the roughly 20,000-square-foot space.

"At times, there could be a single deputy during shift change," Mendrick said. "I thought it was unsafe. The supervision was lacking."

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So the program will return in the coming weeks to a vacant area in the jail.

Mendrick said he could make the change because head count in the jail has declined, thanks in large part to the success of rehabilitative programs.

"That has given us the space to bring those inmates back," he said.

Two housing units containing a total of 76 beds will be used for male inmates. A third housing unit with 12 beds will be used for female inmates.

Officials said relocating the program will help with manpower in the jail, provide work-release inmates direct access to medical services and allow for a more coordinated response during emergencies.

If the sheriff's office wanted to keep the work-release program where it is, DuPage would have needed to make costly improvements to the building, including technological and mechanical upgrades.

Mendrick said the county was prepared to spend nearly $350,000 to improve the building when he halted the work.

"When I realized what we were dealing with over there," he said, "I didn't feel it was worthy to invest that capital into that environment."

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