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Asbell: Housing IDOC Inmates Puts Major Burden On Peoria County Jail

Peoria County

Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell believes not being able to transfer convicted inmates to state prisons is creating a snowball effect of issues at the county jail.

Asbell said the Illinois Department of Corrections originally halted prisoner transfers at the onset of COVID-19, and continues to limit them, resulting in a hefty expense for the county.

Peoria County
Brian Asbell

“Huge costs involved here, costs that have been transferred to the local governments,” said Asbell. “We're over $1 million that they (IDOC) owe us now for housing, and if we use more current cost studies, which is $120 a day per detainee, it's right around $1.4-1.5 million that we're incurring here at the sheriff's office. That hurts our bottom line for operations, but more so the impact on staff.”

Last week, the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association — of which Asbell is a member — sent a letter to IDOC Director Rob Jeffreys, insisting that transfers be resumed and increased, now that the state is in Phase 5 of the “Restore Illinois” COVID-19 reopening plan.

“County jails continue to be beholden to an unknown schedule of transfers, unknown criteria for which transfers are allowed for, no reimbursement established for the inmates that the counties have already dropped on them, and no consistent dialogue or explanation as to when this will be changed,” wrote ISA President Brian VanVickle, the Ogle County sheriff.

Currently, Asbell said the Peoria County Jail has about 35 detainees awaiting transfers to IDOC facilities and the number has ranged between 30 and 80 throughout the pandemic. He said the extra burden has forced corrections staff to work double shifts or extra hours as the department struggles with officer retention.

“We have employees working 16 hours a day two to three times a week, and this is over a year now,” said Asbell, adding the sheriff’s office currently has a total of 23 vacant positions with the jail accounting for a majority of them.

“There's only so much fatigue a person can take, and they get to their breaking point and they resign, and that compounds the issue," he said. "Then you have to have more mandated overtime to make up the shortfall. It's been a very bad situation again for all sheriff's offices across the state, but it's at a remarkable level that has influenced the jail operations here.”

Asbell said another issue is overcrowding, as capacity remains limited because the jail is still classified as a COVID-19 outbreak facility — despite having no active cases. He added that whether the county will be reimbursed for its extra expenses is “a very big question mark.”

“These talks have been going on since last March, and they've made a couple offers of what they are willing to pay, whether it’s $30 a day (per detainee) or the true cost,” he said. “But I haven't seen two nickels from them.”

Asbell said the sheriffs see the IDOC’s unwillingness to increase inmate transfers as a violation of its state-mandated obligations, as well as Gov. JB Pritzker’s latest COVID-19 orders.

“The irony to this is we have a state government that has made criminal justice reform a priority, but their failure to follow the law and do their duties has created unnecessary harm to the detainees, to the men and women that work in this profession, and especially to our communities as a whole,” said Asbell. “There’s a lot of other needs for our local tax dollars, and it shouldn't be to offset prisoner cost for the state.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.