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Watch now: State to partially reimburse McLean County sheriff for holding prisoners

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BLOOMINGTON — McLean County Board members on Thursday approved reimbursements to the sheriff’s office for costs associated with holding inmates sentenced to the Illinois Department of Corrections while prisons halted intakes throughout the pandemic.

The IDOC had resumed some intakes last year, but it again notified county sheriffs Tuesday that prisons would stop taking transfers because of COVID-19 outbreaks at state prisons.

The McLean County Sheriff’s office is lined up to receive about $310,000 in reimbursements from the IDOC, Sheriff Jon Sandage said. But that is far below what the sheriff’s department spent, he said.

Illinois is paying McLean County a rate of $35 per inmate per day, according to the agreement. McLean County, however, spent $73 per inmate per day, Sandage wrote in the agreement documents.

“It’s not what we wanted, but the state has put us in a corner where this is all you get,” Sandage said in a committee hearing last week, slamming the state government for notifying county sheriffs of the offer Dec. 20 and requiring a response to opt into the reimbursement by Dec. 31.

The state said payments should arrive to county sheriffs within 60 to 90 days.

Sandage told The Pantagraph that as of Wednesday, the county jail was holding 44 people who should otherwise be serving time in IDOC. Some of the 44 people have been awaiting transfer “for a couple months at least,” he said.

The jail’s total population sat at 201 as of Wednesday.

The county jail’s last transport to IDOC was Dec. 17. Transfers throughout the pandemic have been “sporadic,” the sheriff said.

“In usual times, we would make two trips a week,” Sandage said.

Jon Sandage

McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage

“There’s always changes that need to occur. We constantly reevaluate how we do things. I think it’s going to make the relationships that we have with community groups even more important. We’ve always got to know what the community is thinking, what their fears are, how they view law enforcement. It’s just going to make the open dialogue we have even more important.”

Most of McLean County’s inmates are transferred to the Northern Reception and Classification Center at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Sandage said. That facility currently has 96 inmates and 75 staff members who are positive with COVID, according to the IDOC’s online coronavirus dashboard.

Illinois Sheriffs Association Director Jim Kaitschuk said in a statement that IDOC’s decision to stop intakes again “will only further exacerbate the challenges at the local level.”

“Jails across the state also have to work through issues created by COVID, while accepting additional arrestees into their care,” Kaitschuk said.

Sandage reiterated that concern as the McLean County Jail is coming off its largest COVID outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

The outbreak at the jail “is steadily on the decline,” Sandage said Thursday.

As of Jan. 4, the jail had five inmates and two staff members who were positive with COVID, the sheriff said at last week’s justice committee meeting.

“Of course, it has an impact on our budget, but more importantly, it has an impact on our staff,” Sandage told The Pantagraph. “Our staff is burnt out with overtime, they have worked exceptionally well all through COVID, so, my concern right now is the staff.”

The jail employs about 70 workers, the sheriff said.

Remote county board meetings

McLean County Board member Elizabeth Johnston, D-District 5, at the end of Thursday’s meeting suggested moving board meetings virtually amid the spike in COVID-19 cases.

Member Shayna Watchinski, D-District 8, agreed.

“I would also like to see that happen, as well,” Watchinski said. “I think we’re back at a point where it’s worse now than it was when we were in virtual meetings before.”

The concerns come as the Bloomington City Council recently reverted to virtual meetings because of increasing COVID cases.


Contact Kade Heather at 309-820-3256. Follow him on Twitter: @kadeheather

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