HILLSBORO, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — The Logan County Sheriff’s Office attempted to transfer seven inmates to the state-run Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro on Wednesday night, but when the transport vehicle arrived at the state prison, two of the seven inmates tested positive for Covid-19.
The Department of Corrections would not accept the inmates who tested positive, which sparked a short standoff between the state and local agencies. The Logan County transport vehicle insisted the inmates be transferred, and refused to leave the parking lot for a period of about two hours after their tests came back positive, two sources said.
A sergeant at the Logan County jail initially declined to comment on the incident when reached by phone on Wednesday night. Moments later, the vehicle left the state prison parking lot and returned to the county jail in Lincoln with all seven inmates still in their custody.
“We have been closely monitoring other state prison systems where there have been major COVID-19 outbreaks due to offender transfers,” Department of Corrections spokesperson Lindsey Hess said in a statement. “The Department learned from their experiences and developed strict guidelines to prepare for the resumption of intra-agency transports and new admissions.”
The transfer policy has touched off a heated controversy between state and local officials in recent days. In an executive order, Governor J.B. Pritzker initially halted county inmate transfers to state facilities, but a Logan County Circuit Court later ordered the Department of Corrections to accept the inmate transfers within 14 days. Logan County Sheriff Mark Landers filed the lawsuit, citing the financial burden and added health risk of housing inmates at the county jail.
“Monday’s ruling will make it significantly more difficult for IDOC to follow these guidelines going forward,” Hess said. “As of Tuesday, despite this ruling, IDOC is making every effort to follow the guidelines as closely as possible to ensure the health and safety of staff, the incarcerated population and the surrounding community. The Department, with the assistance of IDPH, is testing all new admissions and appropriately quarantining them upon arrival. Preventing the spread of infection is our top priority as we continue to aggressively respond to COVID-19.”
“Both inmates have been in the custody of the Logan County Sheriff’s Office for several months prior to their transfer to the IDOC receiving center,” Sheriff Mark Landers said in a statement. “Both inmates were asymptomatic and were receiving daily temperature checks while in the custody of the Sheriff’s Office.”
Landers’ statement appeared to question the authenticity of the test results, saying the inmates “allegedly tested positive for COVID-19 during the intake process.”
“At this time, the Illinois Department of Corrections has not provided any documentation to support their statements and has not identified what testing procedure was used,” Landers said.
When asked if the Sheriff’s department had any reason not to believe the test results, Logan County State’s Attorney Bradley Hauge said, “We will have the inmates tested through the Logan County Department of Public Health.”