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