County jails are starting to move prisoners into the custody of the state after a judge determined the governor could not prevent the transfers.
Jails have housed prisoners since March, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker prohibited the felons’ transfers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That had jails scrambling to find space to lodge the prisoners while keeping them separate from other inmates. Sheriffs from several counties across the state, represented by the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, went to court over the order.
A Logan Circuit Court judge ruled Monday that the order preventing the transfers was against state law and ordered the state to begin accepting prisoners.
Greene County had moved five prisoners from its facility to the state’s care by Tuesday.
Sheriff Rob McMillen said the jail has been holding prisoners for several months, keeping them separated from the county’s inmates.
But that has been burdensome.
“We are a 21-bed facility, and yesterday we were holding 22 inmates, which was low for the past few months,” McMillen said. “Being able to ship out five inmates, bringing our population down to 16, makes things a lot more manageable.
The jail has been housing on average 25 inmates since March, not holding some lower-level offenders because of the lack of space.
“As soon as we got the court ruling yesterday — as soon as we got that notification — we called and loaded them up at 7:30 this morning,” he said.
In Morgan County, there are 12 prisoners awaiting transfer to a state facility, with two others expected to be transferred soon.
Sheriff Mike Carmody said he will work with the state to get the prisoners transferred as soon as possible, but recognizes that with so many counties trying to do the same, it will take some time. Each prisoner also has to be tested for coronavirus disease before being transferred,
“Fourteen inmates for a jail our size is quite a burden on our taxpayers, because we have to cover medical, food, housing — all the costs,” Carmody said.
The court has not decided if counties will receive additional compensation for holding prisoners, which McMillen acknowledged placed an extra burden on the budget.
The Greene County Jail’s budget allows coverage of expenses for an average 15 to 16 inmates a day for food, housing and medical expenses.
The state can appeal, but McMillen said he hopes that isn’t the case.
“I’m glad it’s over and things are getting back to normal with our jail,” McMillen said. “I’m hoping the state will back off.”