Franklin County Sheriff Don Jones says the state is using county jails as a "dumping ground" for the mentally ill.
The comment came during a county board committee meeting this week as Jones addressed an overcrowding situation at the jail. As of Monday, the county facility held 121 inmates. Jones said the jail is not full but is nearing capacity, causing concern among local officials.
"I'm going to be spending a lot of the county's money with that many people in jail," Jones said. Jones said if the numbers continue to increase it will be "real quick" when county officials will consider moving inmates to other facilities.
Jones reported the jail census normally goes in cycles, with higher numbers usually during the summer months. However, the number of inmates has been steady over the course of the last several months.
"We get down a little bit, but not quite where we used to be," Jones said. "It's just business as usual. It seems to be drugs and drug-related crimes. Law enforcement is doing their job. We put a lot of people in jail. The downside of it is we have to take care of them. It's a concern but we'll work it out."
State's Attorney Evan Owens also weighed in on the situation.
"I'm looking at what we can do about the present situation, trying to get the population down by the weekend," Owens said. "There's a lot of people that need to go to the next step in their life in their journey."
"The state's attorney and I are going to work on it," Jones said, noting that some inmates may be transitioned to home confinement. "
Jones said there are profoundly mentally ill inmates in the county jail.
"I had some people assaulted over the weekend by some of them," Jones said. "It's a challenge. In the state of Illinois right now, there's no beds for these folks. The state's attorney's office files the proper paperwork in court to have them examined, and if they're found to be unfit to stand trial, they are remanded by a court order. County jails have become a dumping ground for mentally ill people. We're not trained and staffed to deal with people like that long term. They need to be in a hospital with appropriate care. The longer we have them, the more challenging and stressful it is on staff, and to be fair, probably more dangerous for the inmate."
In Southern Illinois, there are three facilities to treat the mentally ill: Choate Mental Health Center in Anna, and facilities in Chester and Alton.
"Typically it's weeks, sometimes it's months before they have a bed ready for someone," Jones said, reporting that one mentally ill inmate in the Franklin County has been incarcerated for more than 100 days awaiting transfer.
Jones added, "If the state wants to spend some money to do some good for communities they need to do something about these mental health problems and find a place to take folks like that. County jails need some relief."