Sheriff Mike Downey

Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey – one of the sheriffs involved in a lawsuit against the state regarding transfers from county jails to state prisons – is pictured in a file photo at the Illinois Statehouse in February.

KANKAKEE — Inmates not being transferred as expected to Illinois Department of Corrections’ facilities after being sentenced to prison has cost the taxpayers of Kankakee County $648,000 in seven months, says Sheriff Mike Downey.

Downey discussed the problem at a recent Kankakee County Board criminal justice committee meeting. He said the county is currently waiting for IDOC to take 33 inmates into state custody.

While they wait, the county is paying the tab for housing and medical, Downey said, adding that the state does not reimburse.

Using the $90 per diem the county receives for housing federal prisoners, Downey said that between Aug. 1, 2020, and March 3, the cost of housing state inmates was $648,000.

“The burden on the taxpayers is significant. This is affecting our general fund,” Downey said.

“We have had one of these individuals in our custody since December who is still in our custody. He has not been transferred to the Department of Corrections and the problem with that is liability,” he said. “If something happens to that individual while he is in our custody, regardless if he has been sentenced or not, falls on the county.”

Downey said he has had conversations with some DOC officials but can’t seem to reach the head of the organization.

“I have not got to the top person in DOC, acting director Rob Jeffreys,” he said. “He won’t call me back. He has others call me back.

“They know my position. They know our frustration,” he continued. “I get COVID. We have all been affected by it, and we are all dealing with it.”

But, he said, “This burden that has been laid on our taxpayers is significant.”

In the past three weeks, five inmates had served more time than their sentences and then been transported to DOC, Downey said.

“They had all served their time. That is a blatant violation of civil rights,” Downey said. “I don’t know if those individuals know that. We’ve been upfront with them and told them, ‘[Your] out date is here. You have to go to DOC first. We cannot release you.’”

The state is, however, taking the inmates who are set to be released, he said.

“Once we notify the DOC, all of a sudden they take those guys,” he said. “They go to the intake center at Stateville. They walk in and get processed and they walk back out. It’s still not costing DOC anything other than they have to process them.”

Kankakee County Public Defender Ed Pentuic told committee members the county’s corrections department is doing its job.

“I’ve got a list of all the people who have completed most of their sentence. I’ve been reaching out to DOC and gotten a little bit of traction,” Pentuic explained.

“More importantly, the corrections department here has been doing a great job of prioritizing and reaching out to the Department of Corrections to be sure they get released.”

Kankakee County is not alone, Downey said. This affects the state’s other 101 counties.

Last year, the Illinois Sheriffs Association sued Gov. JB Pritzker in an effort to make the state take these inmates.

The organization has since dropped the suit.

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.

Reporter

Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is jbonty@daily-journal.com.