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COOK COUNTY, Ill. — More than 550 inmates are currently in the Cook County Jail who shouldn’t be.  Many should be in state prison but aren’t because the Illinois Department of Corrections has refused to accept many new inmates due to Covid concerns.  Now Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is appealing to the Illinois Supreme Court asking justices to force IDOC to accept the inmates.

“For more than a year and a half, the Illinois Department of Corrections has avoided its responsibility to take custody of individuals sentenced and remanded to its custody by the Circuit Court and instead has forced the Cook County Department of Corrections to hold these individuals indefinitely,”  Dart said in a written statement. 

In April, WGN Investigates reported on similar concerns raised by other suburban sheriffs, including cost and the impact on inmates’ rehabilitation.  In April, Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain estimated 46 of the 389 detainees in his jail should’ve been in state custody, costing his office more than $500,000.   Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said local taxpayers were being forced to pick-up the $650,000 cost of feeding, housing and securing inmate who should be in state prison.  At the time, several sheriffs said they had sent invoices to the state to cover the cost but had yet to be reimbursed.

Some county inmates have been waiting so long to be transferred to state prison that they are likely eligible for release.   In Cook County, the sheriff says 280 of the 550 inmates awaiting transfer have served enough time they would be eligible for release.  However, since IDOC refuses to process them their eligibility for parole is also on hold. 

Cook County is also reporting more problems as inmates languish waiting for transfer. The sheriff says 40% of fights and other security infractions at his jail involve inmates that should be in state custody.  

“The state’s refusal to do its job, only makes ours more difficult and dangerous,” Dart said.

A spokesperson for IDOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sheriff Dart’s petition to the state supreme court.  In April, a state prisons spokesperson told WGN Investigates IDOC is “committed to safely admitting as many men and women from the counties as possible,” adding that IDOC has accepted nearly 6,000 new state prison inmates since August 2020