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McHenry County Jail population stays well below max capacity

Unidentified Inmates wait Thursday in the McHenry County Jail before they are taken to work. The facility has the capacity to hold about 650 people.
Unidentified Inmates wait Thursday in the McHenry County Jail before they are taken to work. The facility has the capacity to hold about 650 people.

The inmate population at the McHenry County Jail has remained relatively flat in recent years compared to a number of collar county correctional facilities nearing capacity.

Since doubling the capacity of the Woodstock-based jail more than six years ago, average daily inmate numbers have hovered around 500, well below the 650-hold max.

The mix of daily prisoners includes county inmates, as well as contract detainees from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Bureau of Prisons agency.

“We have to be cautious because the numbers aren’t going to stay this way forever,” McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said. “You have to credit the court system and other organizations with finding the proper services for these criminals. The challenge now is to keep doing that.”

Over the last six-plus years, the average daily population at the county jail has fluctuated from a low of 434 inmates through April of this year to a high of 529 in 2011 data shows.

That includes an average high of 191 county inmates in 2009, and a low thus far this year of 172.

As for contracted detainees, the jailed housed its highest daily average of 348 inmates in 2011, and its low of 262 through the first four months of 2013.

Inmates awaiting trial in criminal cases and those who have already been sentenced are housed at the jail.

They are released after posting bond or sentencing, and those sentenced to more than a year for felony convictions are taken to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The jail has more than 190 correctional officers and staff, with as many as six new employees being added each year through attrition, Zinke said.

To prevent overcrowding at the jail, officials lean heavily on services provided through the McHenry County Circuit Court system, including the Mental Health and Drug courts.

Also, a pretrial bond team interviews each felony offender to aide during bond court and sentencing.

“It gives the judge important information on people as far as setting the bond and so forth,” said Phil Dailing, director of court services with the county. “We have a very strong probation department, and do everything we can to keep people in compliance with their conditions so they don’t end up back in jail.”

The jail receives approximately $85 per contract detainee per day from the federal government, which brings in between $6 and $10 million annually, Zinke said. That 10-year contract is set to expire in 2015, at which time negotiations on a new deal will take place.

“It’s a terrific program that creates jobs and builds a working relationship with the federal government,” Zinke said. “We are also providing a service that helps keep the community safe.”

The Kane County Adult Justice Center averaged 655 daily inmates last year, data shows. That number is slightly above capacity at the facility, which was expanded to 640 in 2008 after previously only having room for 450 inmates.

“We are almost always maxed out,” Kane County Sheriff’s Office Lt. John Hickey said. “And it has stayed pretty steady the last five years. We were previously so pressed for rooms, we had to put bunks in the gymnasium.”

Kane County currently takes some U.S. Marshal Service holds and is in the process of adding more, Hickey added. The jail has averaged 625 inmates per day through March of this year.

In Cook County, the jail averaged approximately 9,451 inmates last year — the jail has room for 10,136 inmates. A spike in Chicago crime has brought the Cook County Jail near capacity in recent months.

The Lake County Jail in Waukegan averages around 629 inmates per day, officials said. The facility has room for approximately 740 inmates. 

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