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Illinois Sheriffs, Republican lawmakers fear undocumented felons are walking free

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sheriff presser

Springfield, IL - Police and Republican lawmakers say they're concerned about a recent change in procedure by the Illinois Department of Corrections related to undocumented felons. In the past, undocumented individuals were transferred to the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, only after serving time for felony convictions in an IDOC facility. Members of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association say they were never notified that the transfers would stop last month and they don't know how many individuals have been released since the procedure changed.

"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," Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said.

Pritzker Administration responds

Governor JB Pritzker's office said the Department of Corrections has paused the majority of interactions with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to protect immigrant families as IDOC builds on progress made under the 2017 Illinois Trust Act.

"The governor has made it abundantly clear that Illinois will be a firewall against the president’s attacks on immigrant communities, " Spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.

The Sheriffs' Association says 223 individuals were safely transferred to the Kankakee holding center in 2019. A review of those transfers by the Kankakee County Sheriff's Office found that 55 of the individuals were found guilty of criminal sexual assault, including crimes against children as young as five years old. Livingston County Sheriff Tony Childress says the policy change is releasing dangerous convicted sexual predators onto the streets without notice or warning.

"Our community deserves to know when a dangerous convicted pedophile with no known address, job or resources is released into our neighborhoods," Childress added.

Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) says his constituents are dumbfounded by the reality that this shift occurred with no public attention on the issue.

"It's alarming to think that, because of a change in policy, suddenly these types of individuals might be walking the streets and we might not even be aware of it," Barickman said.

Calling for answers

Barickman is one of six lawmakers who sent a letter to House and Senate Democratic leaders demanding a joint hearing with the Department of Corrections. They hope to learn why IDOC officials changed the policy without input from police or lawmakers. Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Mt. Vernon), a retired 20 year veteran with the Department, also signed the letter.

"This is a very serious situation and it should be immediately reversed, at least while we're able to have some hearings to determine whether or not this complies with any present laws and whether or not it violates federal law," Bryant said. "We haven't even been given the opportunity to delve into this yet."

Bryant said she is disappointed with the Department and believes this isn't something Director Rob Jeffreys would have done on his own. She calls the decision "unconscionable," since the felons can be returned into the community without notifying law enforcement.

Mike Miletich

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