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Cook County Sheriff's Office Seeks to Upgrade Jail, Law Enforcement Center

Taylor Holt
Updated: March 08, 2019 01:41 PM

The Cook County Sheriff's Office is considering on a $5 million project to renovate and add on to their Law Enforcement Center and Jail.  With the renovations, they would almost double the space they have now.

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For security reasons, cameras are not allowed inside the jail, but staff gave WDIO a tour of what they say are some very needed upgrades.

"The County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is in this building, which also acts a break room for having lunch, and packaging evidence. it’s woefully inadequate even as an EOC. If we had a major event, you can not house enough people in that room to properly manage an event," said Sheriff Pat Eliasen.

On top of that, right now, their 13 deputies share one 120-square foot office. 

"It's pretty tough to do their job effectively. You get three people in there and it’s pretty tight," he said.

The renovations would provide for more space for that, as well as larger visiting rooms with video visitation versus face to face and another garage for more room for their transport vehicle and squads. 

However, what Sheriff Eliasen says is the biggest upgrade is making the jail a Class III facility, which would increase how long they hold inmates to up to a year. Currently, they are a Class I.

"We're looking to house inmates for longer than 72 hours and it’s on a pre-trial or pre-sentence basis. We’re not looking to have people sentenced to the Cook County Jail," Eliasen added.

Eliasen says it about keeping travel time to a minimum and delivering correct services to their fluctuating number of inmates.

"For example, a chemical dependency assessment is ordered by the court, and if our inmate is sitting in Aitkin County, well our Chemical Dependency counselor from Cook County has to drive from Aitkin to do assessment. Also, the programming between a class I and III facility is different. You try to get the inmates some work and give them some skills so that when they do walk out of here they have something to build upon," he said.

WDIO spoke to several people in town Thursday before touring the current facility. They didn’t want to go on camera but voiced their opposition to putting that much money into the jail expansion. Many said the number of inmates they see doesn't justify putting the money into the project. Eliasen says he hears that opposition, but says for him it’s about the future. 

"We did the study, and the study shows that we probably should be considering a bigger facility and not just for today and tomorrow.  We need to look 30 or 40 years into the future and what we are doing for not only public safety but for the inmates," he said.

The next chance residents will get to learn more about the project or voice their concerns will be on March 21st at their public meeting. It will be at the courthouse at 6 p.m.

Credits

Taylor Holt

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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