Little or no air-conditioning in Justice Center or Jail during holiday heat wave, Sheriff says “emergency situation”

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois - Sheriff Gerry Bustos is calling on the county to come up with cash after the Rock Island County Justice Center and Jail went with little or no air conditioning for six days during a heat wave.

"Right before the Fourth of July we were probably close to 90 degrees in some of the courtrooms," said Sheriff Bustos in an interview with WQAD-TV News8.

"We've had a lot of employee complaints," he said. The building does not have windows that open, so window air-conditioning units are out of the question for employees.

It was also a very serious challenge for building maintenance crews to keep inmates safe over the hot holiday weekend, while outside repair crews worked on the aging unit.

"What we did over the Fourth of July weekend is we diverted all the cool air from the building into the jail to keep them cool. By state and federal statute, I have to provide a live-able environment for inmates so this is very concerning to me. There could be litigation from it," Sheriff Bustos said.

Fans were still running in all areas of the Justice Center on Thursday. The court reporter's room was a sizzling 91 degrees. The area near the Sheriff's office registered at 82 degrees. A common area of a cellblock stood at 76 degrees, but it's not clear what the temperature was within the actual cells.

The Sheriff says the company that repaired the unit did the best it could, but could only restore the cooling to 25 percent of full capacity.

"There is no hope that this can be fixed. Here's our problem. If we put new motors on it, the rest of the system is still old. It's still leaking. I think since 2009 we've probably spend $100,000 trying to keep this one going. I think it's time to cut our losses. We should have replaced it prior to now, but because of the county's budget problems we've been trying to fix it," he said.

The critical problem now is, the Sheriff says there is no money for him to replace the unit. His budget was cut by $700,000. He says he has talked with County Administrator Dave Ross about the dire situation.

"Right now, I'm told it's somewhere in the neighborhood of  $150,000 to $200,000.  Where that money is coming from, I don't know. But I do know the Rock Island County Justice Center has to continue to run, " the Sheriff said.

"We're into July now and we have many hot days ahead of us and running at 25 percent of the overall capacity is not going to suit the needs of the building," he said.

Bustos said he had not fielded any formal union complaints or legal action by inmates over the lack of air conditioning during the heatwave, but said he had lobbied hard for last years public safety referendum.

"I certainly couldn't have predicted this was going to happen but I knew that cutting over $700,000 out of our capitol improvement budget was going to put us in a situation with something major that we wouldn't have the money to fix," he said.

Administrator Ross was not available to comment about the situation.