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Rock Island taxpayers might be paying for the delay in transferring inmates to state prisons
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ROCK ISLAND COUNTY

Rock Island taxpayers might be paying for the delay in transferring inmates to state prisons

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Rock Island County Jail

People incarcerated in the Rock Island County jail haven’t been able to get a COVID-19 vaccine since May, but officials said the vaccines should be offered next week.

The Illinois Department of Corrections owes Rock Island County almost $500,000 for housing DOC inmates, according to Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos.

The Illinois DOC stopped accepting inmates on March 26, 2020, after Gov. J.B. Pritzer issued an executive order hoping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmates. On July 27, 2020, Pritzker issued another executive order stating that state prisons could start accepting inmates from county jails at the director's discretion, if they met certain health protocols.

Inmate transfers since then have been unpredictable, Bustos said. Before the pandemic, the Rock Island County jail transferred inmates to state prisons every Thursday, but recently they've been able to make transfers only once or twice every couple of months, and Bustos said taxpayers are footing the bill for the extra time inmates spend in the county jail.

"The Department of Corrections is still collecting their money to house these prisoners, but they're not housing them, and they're not passing that same cost down to the local sheriff's offices," Bustos said.

The Rock Island County Jail typically charges $55 a day to house an inmate for another county and for the DOC. Based on that price, Bustos said the DOC currently owes the county $493,340.

As of Thursday evening, the Illinois Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.

Between March 2020, when the DOC was first shut down, and the end of the 2020 fiscal year on June 30, 2020, the charges for housing DOC inmates was $96,000. During the 2021 fiscal year, from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, the cost was $384,340. For fiscal year 2022, the cost so far has been $13,000, as of Thursday.

Bustos said the jail currently had 14 inmates who needed to be transferred. The last time they were able to transfer inmates was about a week ago, and before that it had been at least six weeks.

"Many sheriff's offices and people, we've spoken with our legislators about this problem. It's not that the state's not aware. It's just that for some reason, there is no communication about what to do," Bustos said.

The Illinois Sheriff's Association sent a letter to the DOC on June 17 asking it to address the situation. Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the ISA, said there had been some communication since the letter was sent.

Kaitschuk said the DOC emailed him on July 2, the same day the governor reissued the executive order stating the prisons should reopen. The DOC told Kaitschuk it would make some changes to how they received inmates, including allowing two inmates per cell where they previously had allowed only one.

Kaitschuk said the DOC also reached out earlier this week and asked to complete a survey of all the jails in the state to find out how many inmate days each jail has had since the pandemic began, meaning it would count each day that each inmate who was supposed to be in the DOC has been in the jails. The DOC received $25 million for fiscal year 2022 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act to put toward paying back county jails. Kaitschuk said they wanted to know how many inmate days each jail had had so they could divide that $25 million evenly among the counties.

In the past, different counties have charged different amounts per day to house inmates, depending on which part of the state they're in and what services they have. Kaitschuk said he's worried the $25 million wouldn't be enough and that dividing the money evenly between counties could set a bad precedent.

"So what they’re trying to figure out on a basic basis is, ‘OK, so if we have $25 million, and we have 500,000 inmate days, you divide one by the other and you’ll figure out how much we can pay the counties for housing our inmates during that time.’ My point to them is, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that covers the cost of the jail, nor does that mean that we’re agreeing to that rate in the future," Kaitschuk said.

Kaitschuk said he also hadn't received any indication as to when inmate transfers might return to what they were before the pandemic. There hasn't been any sort of set schedule for transfers during the pandemic. Bustos said the DOC usually reached out to the the sheriff's office with three or four days of warning to let them know when they could bring inmates and how many they could bring.

"There's really been no specific formula that I've seen from the department of corrections about why they take inmates from certain counties but not from others," Kaitschuk said. "That should be a relatively simple request — 'How do you make the decisions that you're making on who you're taking today?' — but I can't seem to get an answer on that."

Bustos said the risk of transferring COVID-19 from the jails to the prisons was significantly decreased, and in the case of Rock Island County, it's zero. 

"Everyone in the jail right now is COVID free," Bustos said.

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