URBANA – With an increase in the number of inmates infected with COVID-19 at the Champaign County Jail, court staff and corrections workers are using extra oil to keep the wheels of justice turning.
“We have cases, and the problem is, we don’t know what’s going on in jail,” Sheriff Dustin Heuerman said.
On Monday, he met with Presiding Judge Randy Rosenbaum, the public defender and state’s attorney and called for a halt to the movement of any inmates for three weeks in hopes that the spread will be contained and the overall health of the community will be better. .
Rosenbaum had already decided not to hold a jury trial this week. They will resume on January 24.
And the Illinois Department of Corrections recently put a temporary pause on accepting convicted inmates into the prison system. That’s about 19 of the current population, Heuerman said.
“We have done a very good job over the past two years. This is the frustrating part. We’re still doing everything we’ve been doing, but we’re seeing an increase in cases,” Heuerman said.
“We apply best practices, working very closely with public health. It’s all over the community, and it’s bound to be the inmates who come in as well,” he said.
“The officers wear their masks. But despite the rules, we noticed that several lawyers did not wear masks when in direct contact with their clients, ”he said, speculating on a potential method of transmission for the highly contagious variant of the virus. omicron.
Anyone arrested is quarantined upon entry and if they cannot post bail for their release, they remain in quarantine for 10 days, testing twice during this period. A negative test and no symptoms of COVID-19 means they can be put into the general population.
Those who test positive are isolated in holding cells near the Lierman Avenue satellite prison reservation area. Heuerman said that because the potential for isolation in a prison is unappealing, staff suspect some sick inmates don’t report symptoms.
Heuerman said his tired staff are now trying to figure out where to place inmates who had been housed at DeWitt County Jail in Clinton. Officials there informed him Wednesday that they were no longer willing to accept inmates from Champaign County.
On Thursday, the prison count for city center prisons and satellite prisons was 279.
Of these, 25 inmates were in Clinton, 33 in Kankakee and one in the Piatt County Jail in Monticello.
“DeWitt is a small prison and they don’t have the medical staff and the procedures that we do. They have decided they need to deal with the inmates in their custody and are unable to deal with ours at this point,” the sheriff said, adding that DeWitt staff are being flexible with his assistance. as to how quickly and how best to move detainees.
The plan is to transfer them to Kankakee, where the boarding school has also lasted for about four months at a cost of $60 per day per inmate.
Back at the courthouse, traffic and criminal clerks scramble to reschedule the cases of detainees in custody the sheriff doesn’t want to move, as well as non-detained defendants and attorneys who said they have COVID-19 or symptoms of it.
Rosenbaum conveyed the sheriff’s plan to attorneys on Monday and asked them to postpone hearings or do them via Zoom if possible and to “work together and be patient.”
Rosenbaum, who is adept at navigating Zoom, accepted a handful of guilty pleas this way on Thursday without any trouble. The defendants appeared in a room in the satellite prison with Captain Karee Voges, who oversees the facility.
When asked how his staff, which is short by about five correctional officers, is holding up, Heuerman’s response was the same as that of many in the public and private sectors.
“We are ready to overcome this,” he said. “They’re overworked, underpaid and they’re getting sick.”