Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MATTHEW HENDRICKSO­N, STAFF RE­PORTER mhen­drick­son@sun­times.com | @MHen­drick­sonCST

With lit­tle room to spare at Cook County Jail, Sher­iff Tom Dart is seek­ing a court or­der to com­pel the state to take cus­tody of in­mates who had been housed at the jail since the coro­n­avirus out­break.

The Illi­nois Sher­iffs’ As­so­ci­a­tion, which Dart is a mem­ber of, filed the mo­tion last week in down­state Lo­gan County ask­ing a cir­cuit court judge to ap­prove a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion that would or­der the state to ac­cept in­mates who are housed in county jails but should be in the cus­tody of the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Correction­s.

These in­mates — un­like de­tainees at the jail who are await­ing trial — have been con­victed and sen­tenced.

Some of these in­mates served their sen­tences but need to be trans­ferred to IDOC cus­tody be­fore their re­lease.

Since the out­break, IDOC of­fi­cials told sher­iffs said they needed time to pre­pare new in­take pro­ce­dures at state fa­cil­i­ties to con­tain the virus. They’ve con­tin­ued to de­cline to ac­cept trans­fers from county jail for months.

As of Fri­day, there were more than 350 in­mates housed at the Cook County Jail who should be in the cus­tody of the IDOC, ac­cord­ing to the sher­iff ’s of­fice.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and IDOC “have re­fused to take in­di­vid­u­als or­dered into state cus­tody, though re­quired by law to do so, leav­ing Illi­nois sher­iffs with the bur­den of car­ing for these in­di­vid­u­als in the midst of a global pan­demic that has stretched thin the fi­nan­cial and hu­man re­sources of nearly ev­ery law enforcemen­t agency,” Dart spokesman Matthew Wal­berg said.

Con­cerns voiced by Dart’s of­fice and other sher­iffs have been “met with si­lence” from state of­fi­cials, Wal­berg added.

An IDOC spokesman said the agency “re­mains fo­cused on re­spond­ing, mit­i­gat­ing and con­trol­ling COVID-19 to pro­tect those who live and work in our fa­cil­i­ties” but de­clined to com­ment on the suit. Of­fi­cials for Pritzker were not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

The Sher­iffs’ As­so­ci­a­tion sued Pritzker and IDOC in May over a March 26 or­der that sus­pended all ad­mis­sions to IDOC fa­cil­i­ties to pre­vent the spread of COVID-19 from lo­cal to state fa­cil­i­ties.

That left lo­cal sher­iffs bear­ing “the bur­den of pro­tect­ing their de­tainees and county-sen­tenced in­mates from the threat of the virus, but also those who right­fully should be in the cus­tody of IDOC at a time when space and in­mate pop­u­la­tion are crit­i­cal com­po­nents to bat­tling the spread of the virus,” Sher­iffs’ As­so­ci­a­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Jim Kaitschuk said.

Kaitschuk said that since the gov­er­nor’s or­der went into ef­fect, IDOC of­fi­cials have re­peat­edly de­nied re­quests from sher­iff ’s of­fices to take the prison­ers and ac­cused Pritzker and correction­s of­fi­cials of de­cid­ing “to wall them­selves off rather than work with their fel­low law enforcemen­t part­ners to ad­dress the is­sue.”

Dart and other sher­iffs, in their mo­tion, claimed the fail­ure of IDOC of­fi­cials to ac­cept in­mates was caus­ing county jails “dan­ger­ously near­ing, reach­ing, or ex­ceed­ing ca­pac­ity.”

Tom Dart

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