CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — The Illinois Department of Corrections announced Tuesday a pause of the intake of inmates at state prisons.
According to the IDOC the pause is temporary as COVID-19 continues to surge in Illinois. The pause is in place to protect prisoners and staff alike.
IDOC did a similar pause at the beginning of 2020 that county sheriff’s are still looking to get reimbursed from.
The Illinois Department of Corrections is out of space due to inmate quarantines and has no room for new intakes, meaning there’s nowhere to send convicted inmates at county jails in Illinois who are stuck housing and feeding them.
“We’re all having to kind of pick up the burden where they just decided not to do statutorily they’re required to do,” said Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower.
Lower said the state is leaving all 102 county sheriffs across Illinois to foot the bill for inmates that should be in state custody, coming at a cost to the department and local taxpayers.
“And they’re not reimbursing us the costs for housing these people,” Lower said.
Lower said the state is offering a reimbursement rate of $35 a day per inmate, but said that’s nearly a fraction of what it costs to house an inmate in his jail.
“By my account, going by a $55/day housing cost, the Department of Corrections owes Tazewell County Sheriffs Office and the people of Tazewell County about $450,000. Will I ever see it? I highly doubt it,” Lower said.
Under Illinois law, the IDOC must take its inmates from the county jails within 10 days of a conviction. Lower said before COVID, the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office used to do drop-offs every Thursday, now they’re lucky to get an appointment. He said the last time inmates were transferred into state custody was in December.
“We have people that were sentenced last October that are still here, and we can’t just drive them up here and say here we are,” Lower said.
In Woodford County, Chief Deputy Dennis Tipsword said jail capacity is 86 inmates, and having to keep extra inmates for the state pushes them to capacity.
“It limits our ability to quarantine new inmates as they come in or any discipline issues we may have when we’re basically using every bed in the facility,” Tipsword said.
Before COVID, Tipsword said once an inmate was convicted, they were transferred to the state within 2-3 days. Now, he said IDOC inmates are staying at the Woodford County Jail for as much as two months or more.
Tipsword and Lower said, unlike the state, they can’t tell a judge they won’t accept any new inmates due to overcrowding.
“We don’t have the ability to say well timeout, we’re not going to take them right now, we have to make it work, and we do,” Tipsword said.
In McLean County, Sheriff Jon Sandage appeared at a McLean County Board of Justice Committee meeting last week. Sandage said McLean County Jail is getting around $310,000 from the IDOC for inmates housed from March 2020 to August 2021.
“All 102 sheriffs in Illinois are not happy about the agreement but realize you have to take what you can get,” Sandage told the committee.