PRINCETON — Bureau County's sheriff is joining other sheriffs from around the state who are going to battle against the governor and the Department of Corrections (DOC) over inmate housing regulations related to COVID-19.
Bureau County Sheriff Jim Reed this week told Shaw Media that his office is joining a lawsuit aimed at forcing state prisons to accept inmate transfers, something they're legally required to do, but have suspended due to coronavirus concerns. As of this week, 89 of 102 Illinois sheriffs have signed on to the suit filed by Logan County.
In March, Gov. JB Pritzker issued an executive order suspending transfers into the DOC from county jails.
Early this week, he issued a new executive order allowing for transfers into state prisons, but Reed said that's little more than an empty gesture because the transfers are allowed at the sole discretion of the director of the DOC.
"They set up a bunch of stipulations and protocols that basically make it impossible for us to meet," Reed said.
Right now, Reed says Bureau County is housing 12 inmates waiting for transfer to prison — some of them he says are housed in LaSalle County Jail, a deal which has been in place some time due to crowding issues Bureau County Jail was already dealing with before the COVID outbreak.
"LaSalle County has been housing some of our inmates, so they've had to transport them," Reed said, "I have to thank (Sheriff) Tom Templeton because he's had to try to get out his inmates and ours."
Reed said the main issue is that his jail has only a 32-person capacity and it's already a struggle due to the strict classifications. Inmates must be housed in classifications such as under-sentenced vs. waiting for sentencing, misdemeanor vs. felony charges, males vs. females. Adding additional safety protocols for his staff and the inmates is stretching already-thin resources.
"It's not any safer to keep them here," he said. "And it's not our responsibility. The Department of Corrections is required by law to take those prisoners and the governor's orders stopped that."
The order allowing for transfers include requirements for social distancing, temperature checks, quarantine and testing.
In a statement provided by Reed, Illinois Sheriff's Association Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk explains why the organization argues the order allowing transfers is a shallow gesture at best.
"The requirements are difficult for county jails to meet because COVID-19 tests results must have been received within three days before the transfer, and test results often take longer than that. If an inmate has to leave the facility for a test, that restarts the requirement for 14 days of quarantine as well."
Right now, Reed said the sheriffs are attempting to get a temporary injunction that would compel DOC to accept county jail inmates.
"There are sheriffs who have tried to transport to Stateville and have been denied their transfer requests, even after the executive order," he said.
In the meantime, Bureau County, and other counties, are picking up the tab for housing inmates that should be headed to prisons.
"Twelve of our inmates have been held here for several months waiting for transfer," Reed said. "With a 32-person capacity that's a third of our capacity that shouldn't even be here."