File Photo – Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois | Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

(The Center Square) – Illinois’ county jails have been filling up with hundreds of inmates since late March because of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order halting transfers to state prisons, but now sheriffs hope a judge will force the state to accept them and make room in jails.

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association filed a lawsuit last week in Logan County Circuit Court, naming Pritzker, Illinois Department of Corrections Acting Director Rob Jeffreys, and wardens from four state prisons. It seeks not only to force the state prisons to accept transfers, but to also compensate the counties for housing the inmates.

“All that these guys are looking to do is to get whole and not get hurt on this deal with the state or the feds for that matter,” said Jim Kaitschuk, director of the sheriffs’ association.

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IDOC Public Information Officer Lindsey Hess responded to the suit.

“The Illinois Department of Corrections remains focused on responding, mitigating and controlling COVID-19 to protect those who live and work in our facilities,” she said. “Due to the pending litigation, no further comment can be provided.”

State law says the Department of Corrections must accept an inmate within 14 days of transfer, but Pritzker’s order struck that language for the duration of his emergency orders. There are about 36,000 inmates housed in IDOC facilities.

On four different occasions, the suit said county sheriffs had attempted to transfer inmates to state prison, but were turned away. Kaitschuk said the prisoners represent safety risks for other inmates as well as county staff.

“Let’s say somebody’s in a county jail for a life sentence. I would argue that they’re much more of an additional threat to the staff and the safety and security of those that are taking care of them in the county jail because, at that point in time, what do they have to lose?” he said.

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Pritzker said in his executive order that the transfer moratorium would help slow the spread of COVID-19 in IDOC facilities.

“[T]o ensure that the Director of the IDOC may take all necessary steps, consistent with public health guidance, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the IDOC facilities and provide necessary healthcare to those impacted by COVID-19, it is critical to provide the Director with discretion to use medical furloughs to allow medically vulnerable inmates to temporarily leave IDOC facilities, when necessary and appropriate and taking into account the health and safety of the inmate, as well as the health and safety of other inmates and staff in IDOC facilities and the community,” the order said.