MONMOUTH, Illinois-- Warren County Sheriff Martin Edwards said the county jail came to the end of the road Wednesday when it had to be suddenly closed.
"The lives or health of the prisoners are in such danger that we have to remove them because we do not have staffing to adequately man the jail," he said during an emergency county board meeting.
The sheriff said an employee unexpectedly quit, making it impossible to keep the jail open. The jail has been understaffed for a number of years.
Right now, there are only six full-time employees and one part-timer.
"That clearly is not sufficient to maintain the staffing as has been proven time and again, that has been overly proven again," said board member Sean Cavanaugh.
The 23 Warren County inmates are now in the Mercer County Jail in Aledo.
To get those inmates back into Monmouth, the sheriff said more people need to be hired.
"Find good quality candidates who we know are going to stick around, to the best of our ability, get them trained and ready to go before we open up for business again so we can stay ahead of this problem," Sheriff Edwards said.
He added that some jail workers are paid nearly $10 more an hour in neighboring counties. Since 2006, 39 employees have left the jail and 31 of them went to work in Knox County.
So the county board is looking at increasing wages. But there are several roadblocks in the way.
A new contract was recently signed with the jailers' union, and trying to reach a new agreement with higher wages will be difficult.
Board member David Jenks said they tried increasing wages for the union before.
"We tried to do it," he said. "We weren't successful. Maybe we need to try again."
But even if a new agreement is reached, Warren County still needs to come up with the money to increase wages.
"But folks, let's face it. It isn't there to give it," board member Tim Bresnahan said.
Other options include having deputies run the jail in addition to the current staff. Sheriff Edwards said there's already a deputy shortage and that would pull deputies off the streets where they're needed.
The county could also implement a new tax for public safety, but time is ticking on that option.
The last day a ballot measure can be added is August 20, making time of the essence.
A third option would mean sending inmates to other counties once the jail reaches capacity, which is 22 inmates. It's costing the county $40 a day, per inmate to house them across the county line.
Several deputies also brought up safety as a concern. They said they've had to be selective about which suspects they jailed and which ones they let go.
Sheriff Edwards said he needs to hire and train at least four new employees before the jail can reopen.