A law enforcement group and Republican legislative leaders said a recent Illinois Department of Corrections policy change means convicted felons who aren't U.S. citizens are being released from prison in communities with no notice to local law enforcement, a practice they said raises public safety concerns.

Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said law enforcement officials were notified Jan. 30 by IDOC they had canceled pickups of non-citizens upon release from prisons. Downey said they had to go to federal authorities at Immigration and Customs Enforcement for information about the policy change.

Downey said Kankakee contracted with ICE in 2018 to facilitate the transfer of convicted felon non-citizens being released from Illinois prisons to ICE custody.

“In just 2019, the Kankakee County Sheriff's office assisted in 223 safe and secure transfers of felons who had been convicted of committing the following crimes in an Illinois community, and these were not mild transgressions,” he said.

The list included murder, predatory criminal sexual assault and other violent crimes.

Livingston County Sheriff Tony Childress said he was dumbfounded by the policy, which he said gives those being released from prison a head start to allude federal immigration authorities.

“We have the state of Illinois aiding and abetting a felon fleeing law enforcement,” Childress said. “This policy is not acceptable and it creates substantial safety risks for our community, our families and our fellow law enforcement officers.”

Downey urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to reverse the policy.

“What is it going to take?” Downey asked. “I think that’s a question we all have to ask. Is it going to take a kid under 13 getting sexually assaulted? Is that what’s it is going to take? Is it going to take somebody getting killed? Is that what it is going to take? I don’t know, that’s a question the governor is going to have to answer.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said Illinois was a buffer between the federal government and immigrants.

"As Donald Trump continues to advance policies that tear apart families and terrorize children, the Pritzker administration is committed to using every tool at our disposal to protect immigrant families in Illinois," said Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for the governor. "The governor’s office is working closely with the Department of Corrections to review current policies, build on the progress made under the bipartisan Illinois Trust Act that was signed into law in 2017, and ensure the protection of immigrant families and all Illinois communities. As this work moves forward, the Department of Corrections will pause the majority of its interactions with ICE. The governor has made it abundantly clear that Illinois will be a firewall against the president’s attacks on immigrant communities."

The IDOC said it was following state law.

“Under the Illinois Trust Act, the Illinois Department of Corrections is prohibited from detaining an individual solely on the basis of an immigration detainer or non-judicial immigration warrant," IDOC spokesperson Lindsey Hess said.. "All incarcerated individuals are released at the expiration of their sentence. We continue to work with the Governor’s Office to review our policies and procedures to ensure the safety of Illinois residents and compliance with state law.”

Republican lawmakers joined the sheriffs in calling for a swift reversal of the policy. State Sen. Jason Barickman demanded a Senate committee look into the issue. 

Senate President Don Harmon’s office said he "would certainly give it the appropriate review."

Associate Editor

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.