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Local county officials and legislators hope the acquisition of the former Hanna City Work Camp will unlock some answers to several area problems. Sheriff Mike McCoy recently hosted a tour of the 35-acre former work camp, located on Route 116 near Hanna City, about six miles from the Peoria County Jail.

Legislators and Journal Star reporters viewed some of the 44 buildings on the site, along with Peoria County Administrator Patrick Urich and some exceptionally knowledgeable officers from the Peoria County Sheriff’s office. The work camp closed in September 2002, the casualty of a bitter dispute between Governor George Ryan and state union leaders.

New life could emerge on many different fronts. Sheriff Mike McCoy introduced the Hanna City idea in the course of a recent conversation with area mental health reform advocates—he wants a better alternative for housing inmates with mental issues than the present jail, but lacks a place to put them. Besides, there are urgent overcrowding problems at the jail now, and something must be done soon.

While many of the 44 buildings were candidates for a speedy demolition, others were in remarkable condition. A relatively new dormitory appeared to be a quick solution to the increasingly severe overcrowding problem at the jail. While the jail accommodates 420 beds, it is routinely packed with more than 466 inmates, and Sheriff McCoy believes that many non-violent inmates with mental health issues do not belong at the jail at all. He envisions the possibility of an effective, inexpensive remedy at Hanna City. Urich also strongly believes the jail should not be a “de facto mental institution.”

McCoy, Urich, States Attorney Kevin Lyons, Mayor Jim Ardis, Police Chief Settingsgard, area judges—including Stu Borden and Jim Shadid—and others have taken the first preliminary steps of developing a mental health court—a necessary piece for reform. Barriers include securing funds for alternative incarceration, a strong jail diversion program, effective case management, additional court personnel and police training.

Other counties have realized substantial cost savings by streamlining the system, as arrests, bookings, prosecution and jail beds are extremely expensive today. Mike Boyle at the Human Service Center has demonstrated how effective case management at the jail can reduce costly repeat trips through the criminal justice system. Mike Polson of the Tazwood Mental Health Center is leading eventual Tazewell and Woodford participation.

My House Bill 4653, which would transfer Hanna City Work Camp from the Department of Corrections to Peoria County ownership, passed unanimously in the House. The Senate then voted 50-4 in favor of the bill. Acquisition of the 35-acre site offers Peoria County an uncommon flexibility to dream for the future. The possibilities are limited only by our imagination. IBI

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