(The Center Square) – Sheriffs across Illinois are suing the Pritzker administration’s Department of Human Services over the state’s continued delays in transferring jail inmates for treatment after they are deemed unfit to stand trial.
The estimated extra taxpayer cost to the counties is nearly $1.5 million.
The problem has been happening since before the pandemic but was made more acute after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders in April 2020, according to Illinois Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk.
“It’s been a problem for years,” Kaitschuk told The Center Square earlier this month. “The lack of forensic beds across the state has been a problem I’d say for decades.”
The governor’s orders have since been modified, but detainees the state is required to evaluate are not being transferred in a timely fashion.
In Sangamon County, Sheriff Jack Campbell sued in several individual cases leading to at least one contempt of court citation against the state. Campbell said they don’t have the resources for the inmates.
“We are not a mental health facility, we’re a detention facility,” Campbell told WMAY. “And it was unfair to the inmate themselves, who the court has said they need help that the jail and the court cannot provide them and DHS had refused.”
Campbell also sued to get a restraining order against the governor’s COVID-19 executive orders limiting transfers.
“They have to find that bed space,” Campbell said.
“We’ve had a [state run mental health] facility shut down in Lincoln, we had a facility shut down in Jacksonville, that they should open those back up and get these people into those facilities that need the health care that the jails can not provide,” Campbell said.
The governor had previously declined comment about the matter, citing pending litigation.
The sheriffs from Knox, Madison, Rock Island, Macon and McLean counties joined Sangamon County’s lawsuit Thursday in Sangamon County in an attempt to order the state to transfer such inmates.
“Plaintiffs have experienced such extensive and indeterminate delays in the admission of unfit inmates into DHS custody for court-ordered restorative treatment,” the lawsuit said.
“These delays have also caused the Plaintiffs, as well as their respective counties, to incur additional costs while holding these individuals awaiting admission by DHS.”
In one case, the lawsuit states in 2020, unfit detainees in Sangamon County were held a total of 1,687 extra days after they should have been transported for a total cost of $90,254.
In 2021, the cost was $86,937. So far in 2022, the cost is $71,101.
Sheriffs from the other five counties now part of the lawsuit “have incurred similar costs as a result of being forced to hold individuals for periods well beyond the time within which DHS is legally required to accept them for restorative treatment.”
Altogether among the six counties, there are around 45 detainees awaiting transfer per the lawsuit.
“DHS’ continued failure and refusal to timely accept accused individuals found unfit has and continues to adversely affect Plaintiffs’ responsibilities as sheriffs due to the resulting endangerment of the safety of inmates and jail personnel along with diminishment of the likelihood of fitness restoration within one year,” the lawsuit said.