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Randolph County OK despite federal shutdown; other counties feeling the pinch

  • The Randolph County Jail houses 10-12 federal inmates most days, but so far has not been put in a pinch by the federal shutdown.

    The Randolph County Jail houses 10-12 federal inmates most days, but so far has not been put in a pinch by the federal shutdown.
    Judy Shields/Shots by Shields

By Travis DeNeal and Renee Trappe;
updated: 1/16/2019 11:25 AM

The partial federal government shutdown is starting to have a financial impact on some southern Illinois counties, as jails that house federal inmates wait for reimbursement.

None may in as bad a shape as Saline County, where Sheriff James "Whipper" Johnson said a lack of federal reimbursement will spread his office too thin, and likely force layoffs among his sheriff's deputies.

Randolph County is not currently facing similar drastic consequences, Sheriff Shannon Wolff said Monday. He added it would take "months" of an ongoing shutdown before the county would feel the pinch.

Wolff said the Randolph County Jail has 10-12 federal inmates each day, on average. The jail houses them, feeds them, dispenses medication and drives them to and from court dates in East St. Louis and Benton.

In turn the U.S. Marshals Office pays Randolph County about $21,000 a month for housing, with transportation costs on top of that.

"Some counties house more (federal) inmates" than Randolph, Wolff said. "Some of them may rely on that money to make payroll, but Randolph County isn't in that position right now."

Wolff said the jail's budget for food is big enough to cover all inmates -- about 30 in total are in jail on any given day.

"Our cost to house (federal inmates) is minimal, we have the space," Wolff said, adding the jail also has food and hygiene products on hand.

Randolph County has been contracting for federal inmates a little more than two years.

"Our county has had some financial problems, and this was an opportunity for us to generate money for the county," Wolff said.

Next door, Perry County is deeper into the federal inmate housing program than Randolph. Sheriff Steve Bareis said the Perry County Jail houses about 32 federal inmates a day and the federal government is already $65,000 in arrears.

"It has a pretty big impact on a struggling county," Bareis said. "On a daily basis, we're talking about $1,900 a day."

Williamson County's situation mirrors Randolph's, where Sheriff Bennie Vick they can cope for a while despite not being reimbursed.

"We'll go ahead and house and feed their inmates as long as they need us to," Vick said.

In Saline, however, the county's overall financial plight doesn't give Sheriff Johnson any wiggle room.

The reimbursement rate for 10 federal inmates adds up to about $550 per day, Johnson said.

"That's close to what we pay about three employees a day," he said. "I know at some point we will get the money, but it's not helpful right now when our county is struggling."

Besides sheriff's deputies, the courthouse, jail and dispatch service are in the Saline sheriff's budget. Because Saline County is under contract with the feds and neighboring counties for inmates, it cannot lay off jailers. Likewise, because the 911 system has contracts with outside entities for dispatch, it cannot lay off dispatchers.

That leaves deputies as one of the few areas that can be cut to save money.

Johnson isn't saying how long the county can go before it has to start laying off deputies. But he expects it will happen, he said.

Other effects

With the shutdown the U.S. Forest Service is closed. Several areas throughout the Shawnee National Forest are closed, with locked gates barring entry.

A simple note taped to the door of the Shawnee National Forest headquarters in Harrisburg explains the office is closed and will reopen when funding is restored.

In Williamson and parts of Jackson County, the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge also is affected by the shutdown. Gates to some areas are locked, while others remain open. The visitor's center is closed, with a sign on the door advising that visitors to open areas are entering at their own risk.

Federal law enforcement remains in effect on the refuge. Wolf Creek Road, south of Carterville, is currently open. That area includes Bogard Point, where a couple of fishermen were braving the cooler weather and high winds one day last week. One of them said he had seen U.S. Fish and Game law enforcement officers patrolling the refuge.