(The Center Square) – Two executive state agencies in Illinois are failing vulnerable populations, stakeholders say, and lawsuits and contempt of court charges are stacking up.
More sheriffs across the state are expected to sign on to a challenge against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration over criminal defendants deemed unfit for trial not being transferred from county jails and evaluated by the state in a timely manner.
The Illinois Department of Human Services was recently found in contempt of court for not transferring an inmate from Sangamon County jail for a mental evaluation. There are other pending cases where inmates have been transferred, but only after litigation.
Illinois Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk said what’s happening is a waste of taxpayer resources.
“I’ll have a court hearing that’s scheduled for tomorrow and suddenly today I found an available bed. How does that happen? Right. Just as I go to court, I find some space. Time after time after time,” Kaitschuk told The Center Square.
Not only is it a waste of taxpayer resources, it’s also not healthy for the inmate awaiting justice, he said.
"They clearly need to make a determination as to whether or not that individual is fit to stand trial," Kaitschuk said. "To be able to say are they of the necessary mental health to be able stand trial for alleged allegations, criminal violations against them."
He said it's "irresponsible" to put such individuals in this situation.
“When a judge orders you to be evaluated in an inpatient residential, then that’s what you need to be doing,” Kaitschuk said. “I also understand from DHS that they have lacking of staff, well I understand that. But the jails lack staff too and we certainly lack qualified staff to be able to handle people with these kinds of mental health issues that need to be treated somewhere. We don’t want them to get worse, but unfortunately sometimes that’s what happens when they're in our care.”
Sangamon County is seeking a standalone temporary restraining order against Pritzker’s executive orders limiting transfers and Kaitschuk expects other sheriffs to jump on.
“They may have been filing their own litigation separately unrelated to this but I think you may see some additional sheriffs sign into this one moving forward,” he said.
A status hearing in the Sangamon County challenge is set for Aug. 1.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services continues to get negative attention for how children under their watch are treated. A leading statehouse Republican wants answers.
Pritzker has said his administration is working through the problems with bed availability for children in DCFS. He has also said they’re still working through problems he said were created under the previous administration.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said the governor has only given lip service to the problems as contempt of court charges stack up against the agency's director.
“They treat a contempt of court citation as if it’s a jaywalking violation,” Durkin said. “This is just so wrong. These are children’s lives that are at stake. The governor likes to blame everyone else except his own agency. He takes no responsibility.”
Since December, Durkin notes the DCFS director has been found in contempt a dozen times.
Then there’s a recent audit Durkin said is devastating showing the department didn’t have proper records on 192 of 195 cases.
“And that was a requirement under a law that J.B. Pritzker signed within the last two years so his agency is not even following the law that they had championed,” Durkin said.
The Cook County Public Guardian this week said on social media at least eight children have died since December despite DCFS being involved in their cases.
ABC7 reports DCFS said they’re “committed to protecting vulnerable children and strengthening families, and the loss of any child has a profound impact on the entire agency."