Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell received his official appointment with the Peoria County Board’s approval late last week. He’s filling out the remainder of the Sheriff's term vacated by Mike McCoy earlier this summer. And Asbell has been quick to make his first official appointments.
The former Jail Superintendent made his first appointment naming his replacement. He named Peoria County Sheriff’s Department veteran Ronda Guyton to post.
Guyton is celebrating 24 years of service this month and was Peoria County’s first African-American female deputy. She’s also the first to be the jail superintendent.
But as primary as that may be, it’s likely secondary to the skill set Guyton brings to the job. She says she grew up in Harrison Homes with a mentally ill mother and the road was often difficult. Guyton says the police always helped her and that combination shaped the perspective she’s maintained in law enforcement.
She says when she became a police officer, “because I knew exactly where I came from: the things going on behind the scenes that no one else would know, I knew I couldn’t always come in with this hard hand or this hard stand. I had to show empathy. I had to ask specific questions to get to the root of why a person was acting a certain way or find out why they made the wrong choice.”
Guyton says her experiences growing up in public housing with family mental illness and occasional police support were foundational. “That’s the reason I’ve dedicated my self, my life to community service because I’ve been there! And I know that if someone had not stepped in, I wouldn’t be here having this conversation with you now.”
The Peoria County Jail has a daily census of about 350 people. It’s estimated 70-percent of those incarcerated there are dealing with some form of mental illness, including situational-depression.
Sheriff Brian Asbell says they added mental health professionals about four years ago. He says it’s been helpful but it’s not enough since the jail became the largest mental health institution in Central Illinois.
Asbell says over the last 15 years the population of the jail has changed, coinciding with the state’s closures of Zeller Mental Health Center and the transfer of those services to a community-based model.
“This is the last resort for where you have to send people with mental illness and that’s part of our mission right now in the correctional environment, is working on these collateral problems that we’re facing here in our community.” Asbell says, “that’s why it’s important to have the right people placed in these positions.”
At the same time the new Sheriff named Ronda Guyton to manage the Jail, he also named Carmisha Turner as Assistant Corrections Superintendent. Turner’s been serving in the interim role. “I’m very excited moving forward, and selfishly because I’ve been where both hats of sheriff and superintendent for the last seven weeks and if it wasn’t for Carmisha I’d probably had a stroke or completely white hair right now. So...”
Turner is also African-American. Asbell says he made both appoints based on resume experience and ability. But he says both Guyton and Turner give the Jail and Sheriff’s Department an important diversity at a time trust in the law enforcement is low.
“There’s a lot of room, there’s a lot of work we have to do to gain that trust back and having Ronda on the team opens that door back up. We can have these honest sometimes difficult conversations with all the population of our entire county,” Asbell said. “She definitely has that avenue where she can bring that trust back to our department.”
For her part, new Peoria County Jail Superintendent Ronda Guyton says she will work to grow the rehabilitation programs her predecessor, Sheriff Asbell started. They agree the biggest areas of need in the Peoria County Jail are GED and job training as well as mental health and addiction counseling.