IDOC policy change comes under scrutiny

Members of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association are sounding the alarm about a recent policy change that releases non-citizen felons who have served their sentences back into Illinois communities without federal immigration authorities being notified. 

Previously, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) was required to coordinate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to transfer felons with this designation to IDOC in Pontiac where they would begin the deportation process instead of releasing them into our communities.

As a retired Stephenson County Sheriff’s Sergeant, I know the kinds of issues and situations the officers typically encounter. They are on the front lines each and every day protecting our families. Ensuring our communities are safe is their number one priority. We must hear the concerns of our law enforcement community and do what we can to support them. This issue is simply about safety, nothing else.

In light of the Sheriffs’ Association’s concerns and noting the potential dangers to public safety, we would like IDOC to answer the following questions:

Why was this policy changed?
Whose decision was it to change this policy?
Why weren’t lawmakers informed? 

Senate Republicans have also asked the Senate President and the Chairman of the Senate Criminal Law Committee to call a special hearing on this matter.

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association notes that in 2019, 223 individuals were transferred to the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee after serving time at an IDOC facility for their felony convictions. This occurred via a notification from IDOC at the request of ICE. Starting in January 2020, IDOC stopped notifying federal authorities and instead allowed these individuals to be released immediately from the correctional facility into Illinois communities where they had been serving their sentence.

“The public needs to know that this policy shift results in convicted felons being released back into our counties and neighborhoods without notice—despite federal authorities asking that they be transferred to another facility in the judicial system,” said Sheriff Mike Downey of Kankakee County.

More troubling to the sheriffs and law enforcement is that there is no notice or warning given to local or federal authorities when the individuals are released.

“The State of Illinois is helping convicted felons get a head start on evading federal authorities who simply want to do their job,” said Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp. “The lack of coordination is raising the stakes that a dangerous or violent altercation will occur in our communities between a recently-released felon, who knows that immigration authorities are looking for them, and any law enforcement officer. This policy undermines the rule of law, endangers our local communities and puts the lives of our first responders at risk.”

A review of the transfers completed in 2019 by the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office found that the individuals requested by ICE and transferred to the correctional facility had been convicted of committing the following crimes in Illinois:

36 individuals were found guilty of sexual offenses against minors, including crimes against individuals as young as 5 years old;
11 individuals were found guilty of murder, attempted murder or intent to kill or injure;
19 individuals were found guilty of predatory criminal sexual assault;
33 individuals were found guilty of a criminal offense involving a weapon;
50 individuals were found guilty of drug offenses involving a substance other than cannabis; and
55 individuals were found guilty of felony-level traffic offenses including aggravated DUI, having a fourth DUI or a DUI resulting in death.

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association is asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker to reconsider the change in policy and enable the Illinois Department of Corrections to once again coordinate with its partner in law enforcement and criminal justice.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas on this or other issues, please visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.