ILLINOIS — A Logan County Circuit Court judge handed Gov. J.B. Pritzker his latest loss in a challenge to the governor’s executive authority.
Judge Jonathan C. Wright ruled Monday morning that Pritzker’s order that temporarily halted county jails from moving prisoners to state-run facilities ran afoul of state law.
The Illinois Department of Corrections must accept an inmate within 14 days of a transfer, but Pritzker’s order struck that language for the duration of his emergency orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There are about 36,000 inmates housed in IDOC facilities.
“The governor, nor the director of the [Department of Corrections], has independent discretion to determine what inmates they’re going to take or if they’re not going to take any,” said Jim Kaitschuck, director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association. “They just can’t have that unilateral ability to suspend or stop accepting inmates or parameters for who they would accept moving forward.”
He estimated there are about 2,000 inmates awaiting transfer to state facilities.
The ISA filed a lawsuit in late May, naming Pritzker, Illinois Department of Corrections Acting Director Rob Jeffreys, and wardens from four state prisons. The association sought not only to force the state prisons to accept transfers but also to compensate the counties for housing the inmates.
Attorneys representing the state requested a stay of the ruling while they ready an appeal. Another hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Pritzker’s executive order says the transfers pose a threat of spreading COVID-19 through the congregate settings of a state prison.
“[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.
The Center Square – Cole Lauterbach
Cover photo: Bill Kirchner, July 19, 2017