SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — For months, the Illinois Department of Human Services has failed to move inmates that are unfit to stand trial from the Sangamon County Jail.
Now, the county is suing the state.
“If they’re not going to do this on their own, then it presses us into action,” Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell said.
When someone is declared unfit for trial, they are sent to DHS care. The department has 20 days to find them a bed at one of seven facilities across the state, but four inmates have been waiting since April to be moved and one has been waiting since February.
“When they stay here for months on end, it’s unfair to them, it’s unfair to the staff, it’s unfair to the other inmates,” Campbell said. “So it’s something that is problematic, you know, every day they’re potentially a threat to themselves or others. And it’s something we’re always on guard for.”
DHS blames the slow transfer process on a lack of beds at their facilities, saying COVID restrictions and now a lack of a full workforce are cutting their maximum capacity.
Inmate advocacy groups said time is of the essence when getting these people the care they need.
“If they have reached that level, that the court has found that they are unfit and has remanded them to DHS, that means that their symptoms are so acute and so significant that the person cannot participate in his court case, like consulting with his or her attorney, or otherwise,” Amanda Antholt said. “So it’s not just that they’re languishing and not getting better so that they can participate in their court case, they’re actually getting worse.”
The problem stretches far beyond Sangamon County. Jim Kaitchuk, Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, said pretty much every county has a story similar to Campbell’s.
“It is every nook and cranny of the state,” Kaitschuk said. “I mean, I get calls from sheriffs on a regular basis that I’ve got. So and so that’s been sentenced by the court to go to the Department Human Services, I’m still holding them.”
The Department of Human Services admitted to severe backlogs.
A spokesperson said in a statement that “This backlog has been exacerbated by the pandemic’s impact on hospital operations, increasing referrals, limited capacity, and severe workforce shortages.”
DHS cares for over 1600 patients across their seven facilities. An Executive Order that was issued during COVID and is still in effect slowed the admittance of patients during the pandemic. DHS still took in just over 1,200 patients during that time period.
The executive order, and the extent of the department’s power to delay transfer of inmates will be tested Wednesday morning. A Sangamon County Judge will rule on if the state needs to immediately find beds for these inmates at a scheduled hearing.