Court blocks Pritzker’s COVID-19 order limiting unfit detainee transfers

(The Center Square) – The Illinois Department of Human Services is restrained from relying on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders limiting transfers from county jails inmates deemed unfit for trial.

When a court orders a criminal defendant unfit for trial, state law requires the detainees to be transferred to state custody for a fitness evaluation within 20 days. That has not been done on time, in part because of monthly executive orders the governor first issued and modified in April 2020.

Six sheriffs from Sangamon, Knox, Madison, Rock Island, Macon and McLean counties sued DHS over the delays. A Sangamon County judge Thursday issued a Temporary Restraining Order, putting the sheriffs and DHS in the same position they were before the pandemic, which requires the state to follow the law.

Illinois Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk said delays were happening well before the pandemic and the governor’s executive order. He said the situation is untenable.

“Sheriffs across the state obviously have felt the pinch as we’ve discussed before about people being in their care for a longer period of time than they should be, in particular these folks, that they don’t have the mental health services that these folks clearly need,” Kaitschuk told The Center Square. “So, it’s been an ongoing burden.”

The estimated extra cost across the six counties of jail operators having to house unfit inmates is around $1.5 million.

Kaitschuk said despite the court’s temporary restraining order blocking the governor’s executive order, sheriffs will still have to file local petitions with the court to transfer inmates if the state doesn’t act.

“It clearly was a win as it relates to the executive order, it’s a win overall that they are not allowed to violate the law because of the executive order and that they need to try to find ways to get these people moving,” Kaitschuk said. “But, in order to finally get them to move it may still be an unresolved issue at this point in time.”

Thursday’s temporary restraining order is in effect pending a hearing and decision on a preliminary injunction. The state could appeal the TRO.

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