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*** UPDATED x1 - 2 detainees test positive *** What about the jails and the prisons?

Monday, Mar 23, 2020

* If this virus gets into a prison or a jail, it can spread very fast…

* Tribune

A number of Cook County Jail detainees — including “serial stowaway” Marilyn Hartman — have been quietly ordered released this week to help relieve jail crowding amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The hearings to formally release the detainees began this week, unannounced and separate from the two duty courtrooms that remain open to hear emergency matters during a widespread court shutdown.

* Press release…

Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart continues to address the threat of COVID- 19 by implementing comprehensive precautionary measures across the Sheriff’s Office to ensure the health and safety of staff, detainees and the public.

Sheriff Dart previously activated the office’s 24/7 Critical Incident Command Center, which has been tracking COVID-19 related concerns in the Sheriff’s Office. To date, there have been few concerns, and no known cases of COVID-19 at the Cook County Department of Corrections. Incident Command is also communicating with public health and law enforcement agencies about ways to help prevent the spread of the virus. Through these communications, our staff have also been kept updated on ways to protect themselves.

* And then

A correctional officer at the Cook County Jail has tested positive for coronavirus, the sheriff’s office announced Sunday.

The officer most recently worked in the jail’s Residential Treatment Unit, the wing for inmates who need medical or mental health attention, and Cermak Hospital, the on-site medical center, Cook County Sheriff’s spokesman Matt Walberg said. The officer is now in isolation at home.

The sheriff’s office has contacted employees who may have had contact with the officer and advised a “small number of staff” to self-quarantine for 14 days, though none have shown symptoms, the sheriff’s office said.

* Today

In an attempt to speed the release of detainees from the Cook County Jail amid coronavirus concerns, more judges will take the bench this week in Chicago’s main criminal courthouse to formally release people who are not believed to pose a safety risk.

Prosecutors, sheriffs and the Public Defender’s office already have been working together to agree on which jail detainees could safely be released, and have brought about 100 of those cases before a judge for review.

* Decatur Herald & Review

Seventeen non-violent, petty offenders have been released over the last few days from the Macon County Jail as corrections staff attempt to limit the risk of contagion from the coronavirus.

No cases of the virus have shown up in prisoners so far and Sheriff Tony Brown said he was being careful to strike a balance between public health concerns and public safety. […]

All over the country, sheriffs are taking a look at their jail populations and assessing risks. Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell hasn’t gone as far as any prisoner releases yet but, quoted in the State Journal-Register on Sunday, he said 20 non-violent offenders had already been identified as candidates for potential early release.

Sangamon’s inmate population was the same as Macon County’s — 262 — but trending down from a recent high of 330.

* Hannah Meisel at the Daily Line

Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration is still considering releasing Illinois prisoners and youth at juvenile detention centers as the Coronavirus continues to spread throughout Illinois. […]

Groups like the John Howard Association, the Uptown People’s Law Center and the Children and Family Justice Center at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law are pushing for some incarcerated adults and youth to be sent home to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19 should it enter either an adult or youth prison facility. […]

The Department of Juvenile Justice has seen a decrease in population over the last several years, but currently houses approximately 225 youth in five facilities statewide. The largest of those facilities — in Harrisburg and St. Charles — house approximately 80 incarcerated youth.

A coalition of nearly 30 organizations on Friday published an open letter to Pritzker asking for the careful release of some incarcerated youth from the Department of Juvenile Justice, pointing out that the facilities “do not and cannot maintain standards similar to congregate healthcare facilities.”

*** UPDATE *** It’s happening…

Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced that two detainees have tested positive for COVID-19.

The detainees tested positive on Monday, March 23, and are currently being held in isolation cells at Cermak Health Services, where they have been housed since exhibiting flu-like symptoms on March 20.

One of the detainees, age 42, has been in custody since late December 2019 after he was ordered held in lieu of $250,000 D-bond on charges of Aggravated DUI. He was housed in the Residential Treatment Unit at the time he became symptomatic.

The second detainee, age 18, has been in custody since mid-February 2020 after he was ordered held without bail on charges of Aggravated Discharge of a Firearm. He was housed in Division VI at the time he became symptomatic.

…Adding… Press release…

Following a hearing before Cook County Judge Leroy K. Martin earlier today, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx released the following statement regarding the urgent situation at the Cook County Jail and emergency bail hearings to expedite release of detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the interest of both public health and safety during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) has been working around the clock with the Cook County Sheriff and Public Defender to ensure any individuals who are not a threat to public safety are released from Cook County Jail. This weekend alone, prosecutors reviewed more than 1,200 cases. We will continue this process and agree to appropriate releases for the duration of this pandemic, to limit the number of people in our jail and reduce the number of people needlessly coming to court while recognizing there are both public health and safety risks that some detainees may pose. The only way to carry this out responsibly is to address these risks on an individual, case-by-case basis and per the Court’s order this morning, we will do so with increased capacity and continued urgency,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

In light of COVID-19, last week the CCSAO stopped prosecuting low level, non-violent narcotics offenses to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the number of people coming to court. In addition, the Illinois State Police will not be providing chemical testing during the pandemic.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Dotnonymous - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 2:07 pm:

    If they represent no physical threat to the public…let’em go.

    Will some re-offend?…they were gonna anyhow.

  2. - west wing - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 2:11 pm:

    Tom Dart continues to explore humane ways to release non-violent offenders during this unprecedented virus crisis. He has one of the toughest jobs in the state, but am confident he’ll implement best practices to alleviate the problems facing the jails.

  3. - All This - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 2:13 pm:

    ==let’em go.==
    Or use electronic monitoring.

  4. - gone but not forgotten - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 2:20 pm:

    Are they being let go after testing negative for the virus? Since test kits are scarce, why are we wasting them on criminals? If they’re not being tested, we’re releasing them to infect others? None of this makes sense.

  5. - revvedup - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 2:21 pm:

    Yes, offenders will re-offend, even while on Electronic Monitoring (EM). This was happening well before C-19 hit, with over 50 offenders doing new crimes (including homicide out of state while still wearing the EM unit). Source: With all that said, there is no need to confine non-violent offenders until trial under these circumstances, and they should be first out.

  6. - thechampaignlife - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 2:22 pm:

    This is an interesting issue to consider. If the goal is to limit the movement of people, keeping them in jail would actually help with that. If it is to reduce liability and medical costs of having to treat people in your care, releasing them is the way to go. Of course, there are lots of factors in play.

  7. - Jibba - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 2:31 pm:

    I’ve been wondering about the crime rate during the crisis. Somebody is home almost all the time, so break ins might go down. Fewer full parking lots to boost cars and no late night revelers to jump. Pawn shops closed. But addicts need fixes, so they will find something. Probably too soon to tell, though.

  8. - Muddy Trail - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 2:55 pm:

    ===why are we wasting them on criminals?===
    Why not “waste” them on criminals?

  9. - LakeviewJ - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 3:11 pm:

    “Since test kits are scarce, why are we wasting them on criminals?”

    People being detained before a trial are presumed innocent of the crime they are accused of.

    “Are they being let go after testing negative for the virus?”

    As you note, tests are scarce so no, there isn’t the capacity to test everyone coming out. Like everyone else in the state, those people should go home, exercising particular care to avoid contact with other members of their household.

    “If they’re not being tested, we’re releasing them to infect others? None of this makes sense.”

    They may not be infected at all but again, they should be instructed to follow the same order we all are subject to now.

    At any rate, should the virus take hold and spread throughout jails and prisons, it doesn’t care whether a person is an inmate or staff. There are thousands of people going in and out of correctional facilities every day.

    Prisoners can spread it to other prisoners, who can spread it to a correctional officer, who can spread it to their spouse, who can spread it to their neighbor at the grocery store.

    Prison health is public health.

  10. - charles in charge - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 3:13 pm:

    ==Are they being let go after testing negative for the virus? Since test kits are scarce, why are we wasting them on criminals?==

    Why refer to PEOPLE accused (but not convicted) of crimes as “criminals”? Why suggest that testing them for a transmissible and potentially virus is a “waste”? Your disregard for your fellow human being is what doesn’t make sense.

  11. - Fly like an eagle - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 3:19 pm:

    - -Since test kits are scarce, why are we wasting them on criminals? If they’re not being tested, we’re releasing them to infect others?- -
    Some prisoners are due to be released anyway.
    How easy is it for prisoners to stay six feet away from each other at all time?
    Not everyone in the prison system is a criminal, some are people are prison guards. One prison guard has already tested positive.
    Prisoners go out of prison all the time for work. And they have contact with family members.

  12. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 3:21 pm:

    Waste is the wrong word. But testing supplies are in short supply. Priority goes to front line workers and the hospitalized.

    Keeping people in jail and isolated may slow the spread of the disease. Do you really think the woman who is the serial stowaway is going to follow social distancing rules? At least there are few planes flying.

  13. - Concerned Mom - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 3:49 pm:

    Just do what they are doing in nursing/senior living facilities … no visitors. Why are the prisioners treated better than the elderly? If they are due to be released then obviously that should be done but please do not release people that shold be held.

  14. - Captain Obvious - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 3:55 pm:

    So they want to release people who have likely been exposed? Sounds pretty dumb.

  15. - NuancedApproach - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 4:41 pm:

    There are a lot of different things to consider about the detainees in jails, including but not limited too healthcare beds available if COVID takes over, potential overcrowding that comes from more detainees, the inability to have adequate social distancing. Jails are not nursing homes, they cannot stop having new people introduced into the environment.

    It is not a simple binary response.

  16. - Sad Anon - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 5:06 pm:

    A lot of heartless people here calling people in pre-trial detention at a jail (you know, people who haven’t been convicted of anything) criminals and apparently indifferent to their suffering and possible deaths.

  17. - Amalia - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 5:33 pm:

    if they have been exposed, they should not be out. home confinement, ankle bracelet, or whatever. our criminal justice systems presumes innocence and not everyone arrested for a crime is guilty. but most are. I think of the victims of crime and hope that a criminal cannot get near them, including with virus concerns.

  18. - Huh? - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 5:37 pm:

    “Or use electronic monitoring.”

    Do you seriously think the Cook County Sheriff’s Department or any other law enough agency has enough staff to chase down someone who violates their geogrid boundaries? May as well stamp their hands, just like a college town bar bouncer does when carding the townie teenagers.

  19. - Buford - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 5:48 pm:

    Whiteside county jail inmates were being kept in custody past statutory limits under former Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi. I expect that continues with new Sheriff John Booker.

    Whiteside board member Bill McGinn’s grandson was held over limits to retaliate for his being an independent voice on the board, not under the thumb of chairman James Duffy. Watch the rural counties that don’t video board meetings. Coverup and secrecy is their modus operandi.

  20. - crazybleedingheart - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 7:05 pm:

    eugenics: just a branding problem, apparently

  21. - Gatekeeper - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 7:31 pm:

    The priority should be focused on protecting law enforcement.

  22. - Southern - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 7:40 pm:

    IDOCs response has been a joke. Almost as big of joke as AFSCME not calling them out on it.

  23. - Cal Stone - Monday, Mar 23, 20 @ 10:40 pm:

    We have no proper temperature readings at my IDOC facility. I thought screening was important?

  24. - South Side Sam - Tuesday, Mar 24, 20 @ 6:40 am:

    Allowing alleged offender to quickly become re offenders doesn’t lend it’s self to good public policy.

  25. - Fly like an eagle - Tuesday, Mar 24, 20 @ 7:43 am:

    - -This is an interesting issue to consider. If the goal is to limit the movement of people, keeping them in jail would actually help with that- -
    How do you keep all the inmates six feet apart?

  26. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Mar 24, 20 @ 8:37 am:

    ===not everyone arrested for a crime is guilty. but most are.===
    You have the winning lottery numbers too?

  27. - Diane Sanchez - Tuesday, Mar 24, 20 @ 10:01 am:

    What the hell’s happened to my comments? Neither posted and both are pertinent. There are and continue to be over 100 ill inmates in over 10 IDOC prisons sick with “flu-like” symptoms beginning in Feb. God knows how many there are today, but the public and officials are virtually ignoring this despite various reports of it in the press. How can IDOC continue to claim with a straight face that there is NO coronavirus in state prisons when, as Cal Stone states above, some places aren’t even monitoring sick inmate temperatures? Today, finally, IDOC says they can test at facilities but that makes the agency even more secretive about test results. And when will reporters step up and ask Pritzker about all this at his daily briefings?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* IDPH adopts CDC booster shot recommendation
* *** UPDATED *** Question of the day: Pritzker signs revised remap bill
* If it wasn't obvious before... Wear your masks, people
* COVID-19 roundup
* *** UPDATED x1 *** People alleged to have behaved badly
* The hollowing-out of Illinois government is (still) hurting kids
* IDES finally implementing multifactor authentication
* Harmon says Senate "looking at" taking up repeal of Parental Notification Act during veto session
* Open thread
* Yesterday's stories

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