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*** UPDATED x1 *** Federal civil rights lawsuit filed to force state prisoner release

Thursday, Apr 2, 2020

* Jon Seidel at the Sun-Times

Civil rights attorneys launched a coordinated legal challenge Thursday to demand the swift release of Illinois prisoners most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and accusing Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other state leaders of putting the general public at risk.

The effort includes a proposed class-action lawsuit filed Thursday morning in federal court, naming Pritzker and Rob Jeffreys, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, as defendants. Ten IDOC prisoners are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“To effectively prevent the continued spread of the COVID-19 infection in prison communities, the state must take urgent steps to release, furlough, or transfer to home detention all that qualify under the law, and particularly those who are elderly and medically vulnerable,” the lawsuit states.

It adds: “Class members who are elderly and medically vulnerable, and those with pathways to release, must be released now.”

*** UPDATE *** The lawsuit is here.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

31 Comments
  1. - Cassandra - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 9:29 am:

    This change in policy and practice should have happened many years ago.

    It is appalling that it takes a once-in-a-century
    pandemic to bring about significant change in the US corrections arena-assuming the lawsuit is successful, of course.


  2. - Just Another Anon - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 9:30 am:

    From what I’ve heard, most of the delay is that the potential detainees don’t have a fixed address at which they can be released to/confined in. I’m sure the attorneys at Loevy and Lovey will remedy that by offering to take these inmates into their own homes, as they feel so strongly about this issue.


  3. - truthteller - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 9:37 am:

    IF these lawyers want to assume 100% responsibility of the care and welfare as well as being legally responsible for what these people do, sure go for it. Until then, well, crime does have punishment and nothing says life is fair


  4. - Anonymous - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 9:56 am:

    this is being done across the country as part of a policy to force changes to sentencing. if successful, the oldest inmates, primarily multiple muderers and rapists, will be released back into society, many without stable homes, and will be competing for limited hospital resources with community members in the midst of a pandemic. i hope the aclu is notifying the victims, who have constitutional rights here, of their plans for early release. if successful, this will not end well.


  5. - Former Candidate on the Ballot - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 10:03 am:

    Ok - probably going to learn something here - But…. Wouldn’t the prison system be the easiest place to enforce social distancing and confinement?


  6. - Roman - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 10:06 am:

    == most of the delay is that the potential detainees don’t have a fixed address at which they can be released to/confined in. ==

    That’s absolutely true and it is a challenge for corrections officials even in non-pandemic times. Elderly and sickly inmates can be (and are often,) paroled to nursing homes. But no nursing home is going to take a COVID patient or an inmate who has been around COVID patients. Even the relatives of inmates are understandably reluctant to take inmates in.


  7. - JS Mill - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 10:07 am:

    I am ok with elderly and vulnerable non-violent offenders getting some consideration so long as there is a sport system in place for them.

    Violent offenders, especially repeat offenders, like murderers and rapists need to serve every single day of their sentences.

    This would be a good time to let people who were locked up for marijuana related offenses to be released as well.


  8. - Ano - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 10:12 am:

    I, Like Former Candidate have wondered the same thing! Aren’t we all pretty much in confinement in our homes? How is releasing confined prisoners to ??? helping anything?


  9. - Southern - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 10:30 am:

    Like Former Candidate have wondered the same thing! Aren’t we all pretty much in confinement in our homes? How is releasing confined prisoners to ??? helping anything?

    You are correct, it isn’t helping anything. Crisis creates opportunity as a former Governor once said. Just another special interest group pushing their agenda during a crisis.


  10. - DuPage Saint - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 10:44 am:

    I have often wondered how many inmates served in military. If they did and were ill couldn’t they be released to a VA facility?


  11. - SAP - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 11:03 am:

    It seems pretty cruel and unusual to put closely confined prisoners to heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.


  12. - Magic Dragon - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 11:09 am:

    =Violent offenders, especially repeat offenders, like murderers and rapists need to serve every single day of their sentences.=

    And this represents the vast majority of your elderly population in IDOC.


  13. - Donnie Elgin - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 11:17 am:

    Treat them in the IDOC system. The prison communities can practice social distancing and “Stay at home” procedures. Illinois prison population has been going down so hopefully there is more capacity to move inmates around. But certainly, stop jailing non-violent offenders at the county level as they are getting arrested.


  14. - Last Bull Moose - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 11:22 am:

    Absent a vaccine, flattening the curve does not change the numbers of people who become infected.


  15. - Mason born - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 11:35 am:

    Former Candidate and Ano

    Social distancing isn’t exactly possible in a prison. I worked for IDOC as an Officer 10 yrs or so ago and still have friends working there. This will be pretty specific to the design of most of our Medium security prison designs built in the 70’s older ones are likely worse.

    in these prisons inmates were housed in buildings called houses with multiple houses in a facility. In a typical “house” you’ll have around a 100 men in 50 cells, which are about the size of a small walk in closet, divided so as to have 50 on a side. Each group of 50 shares a day room with a tv and phones as well as 2 showers. To eat the majority of those 100 men get in a line and walk to a communal dining room standing in line and eating at large tables with other inmates from other houses. Tables will have this virus on them if an inmate is infected as will dayroom tables. There isn’t the capacity to get 6′ between them in line or the dining room. Their recreation is a communal gym used by all houses or a yard shared with other houses. You could lock them all down, and i expect if a case is positive that group would be locked down, which would keep them in their cells for meals and cancel recreation however that means more interaction with staff. Staff that rotates among houses and like any one else is only as quarantined form the virus as much as they’re willing to comply.

    The good news is since Pritzker came in he has increased staffing making it more likely DOC can handle the crisis, head count has also been reduced with the pot bill giving more real estate to try and limit spread.

    I do wonder about how many families are ready to accept released inmates and whatever other infrastructure we have for housing them, as bad as being in a prison would be homeless likely isn’t better for the inmate or society as a whole.


  16. - Dan Johnson - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 11:36 am:

    Home confinement is still a sentence. It isn’t ending a sentence. It is shifting the sentence to a different area until the pandemic is under control.


  17. - Anon - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 11:49 am:

    Ano and Southern, the rate of infection in the Cook County Jail is reportedly close to 47 times the community rate: https://southsideweekly.com/criminal-justice-response-covid-19/
    Does that sound like people are safer in jails or prisons? Inmates have no masks or gloves, and limited access to soap and cleaning supplies. They are sitting ducks to everything brought to them and handled by numerous people before them. Most live in open barrack style or open fronted cells that breathe in common air and germs. There is NO room in IDOC to spread & stay 6 ft apart. And, the biggest obstacle for release isn’t that most don’t have a place to go to. Most of them are relatively short-termers with families to return to & IDOC knows who they are. The big obstacle is IDOC insistence that every residence be thoroughly vetted by staff; mostly counselors, the majority of whom work slow and are uncaring even in the best of times. This bureacratic blockage and paperwork hinders releases and medical furloughs. And, there are groups both inside and outside the state who have volunteered to IDOC to take on groups and even 100 plus inmates to their facilities. IDOC just has to do this. Then it might just be able to properly quarantine those it can’t place. Understand, IDOC staffing is limited and staff are unequipped to handle an emergency of this scale. It’s only a matter of time before they melt away and who will be left to secure facilities. Even the National Guard helping out at Stateville right now is doing it at arm’s length and isn’t in the trenches securing most of the inmates. Once we run thru the guard, who will be left to step in? Is Trump going to call in the military and publicly admit his failures? Would there even be enough military for all US prisons?


  18. - illinoyed - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 11:59 am:

    Anon, please don’t forget the Parole Agents and PRU staff, also perpetually shorthanded and overloaded, who are also tasked with investigating and approving placements for certain classes of releases. I may be a little biased in defending them….


  19. - Candy Dogood - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 12:05 pm:

    As with a great many things we have done or attempted to do, this lawsuit is most likely too late.

    I is also asking for something the administration stated it was it’s intention weeks ago, but as with a great many things, our public bureaucracies are not known for swift and decisive action, and our public service administrators and senior public service administrators are not usually discussed in terms of their qualifications and excellence.

    Our efforts to do the right thing probably died on someone’s desk who disbelieved in this pandemic and chose to not take the stated intent of their superiors and our elected officials seriously over what they believe to be their power.

    When this is done we need to make sure that we put effort into finding out which merit comp employees had an opportunity to make a difference and didn’t and which ones specifically hampered our response and hold them accountable.

    Some public administrators have done things that have set in motion the events which will kill people over the last couple of weeks and we need to treat that as seriously as we threat any other negligent homicide.


  20. - Just Another Anon - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 12:15 pm:

    @Anon at 9:56

    Thats a good point. The Victim’s Rights Amendment to the IL constitution and subsequent state law (725 ILCS 120/4) have some interesting intersections here. As I recall, the victim has a constitutional right to be protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process, including decisions on whether to release the defendant and conditions on release both before and after conviction. Its also my recollection that the victim has a constitutional right to at least 30 days notice prior to release, though my recollection is that applies to parole hearings in all cases, and is dependent on the type of crime in others.

    I would think that a program which unilaterally decides to place convicts on home confinement, basically placing them back into the community, would arguably violate the victim’s due process rights, specifically to have notice of the change in conditions of confinement and to have their say as to its impact on their safety and protection.

    Interesting situation. I will disagree with SAP that confining inmates during this outbreak is cruel and unusual. I view this as an issue of availability of medical care. If the medical treatment available inside the facility is under the same strains as the outside medical treatment, then I don’t think it can be said to violate the 8th Amendment as it certainly isn’t “unusual”. I have no doubt that people would rather spend as much time outside of prison as possible, but the 8th Amendment does not exist to provide a change of venue for where you would prefer to contract a disease.


  21. - Streamwood Retiree - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 12:16 pm:

    =I have often wondered how many inmates served in military. If they did and were ill couldn’t they be released to a VA facility? =
    My brother-in-law served honorably for 18 years including three combat tours in Vietnam then finished his working life working as a lab tech for the VA. Now he is impoverished by nursing home bills from an accident but the VA says they are full of returning casualties from the middle east and he can’t get a bed because combat casualties come first. Understandable. But I can’t understand why some CRIMINAL should have priority over him.


  22. - Former Candidate on the Ballot - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 12:28 pm:

    Mason Born - Thank you, that adds some needed perspective

    To Anon@11:49 - The local Jails are a tough call - especially since people continue to break the law. As a society do we stop bringing people to jail during this pandemic?

    To Candy Dogood - Administrators and Negligent homicide - that is not a good idea,


  23. - the Patriot - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 12:32 pm:

    A Federal Lawsuit trying to get the liberal governor to be more compasionate…Like Trump.

    Seriously, the lack of clarity with the plan on early releases to ensure they are not already infected before they are released Tuesday was worrisome. Mayor Lightfoot’s face spoke volumes knowing a majority will return to Chicago.

    At this point the courts are not going to randomly tell the Governor to release potentially infected people out of isolation into the public. Just not happening.


  24. - Mama - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 12:56 pm:

    Everyone who works in a prison and all new prisoners should have their temperatures taken before they are allowed to work or enter the prisons. Plus test should be available for those who are sick.


  25. - Mama - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 1:02 pm:

    All visitors should have their temps taken before they are allowed to visit a prisoner. Visit denied if they have a temp over 100.


  26. - Pundent - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 2:02 pm:

    =All visitors should have their temps taken before they are allowed to visit a prisoner. Visit denied if they have a temp over 100.=

    Did you just wake up from a long nap? All IDOC facilities are on an administrative quarantine and new admissions have been suspended.


  27. - Seriously - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 2:20 pm:

    Complete predatory attorneys at work…What a opportunity for them to make millions on the unfolding potential of a virus.IDOC survived bird flu…SARS .. Y2k…It will survive this Or maybe all these bleeding hearts will take a few in…The inmates are exactly that. convicted felons…How does a criminal judically housed deserve more than a normal person? Let us watch and see how rehabiltated these felons are…Anyone care to wager when the first robbery or murder will be committed?


  28. - Bubble Popper - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 3:01 pm:

    == most of the delay is that the potential detainees don’t have a fixed address at which they can be released to/confined in. ==

    Virtually every hotel in the state has 100% vacancy right now.


  29. - MyTwoCents - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 3:50 pm:

    Bubble Popper, and who’s going to pay for the hotel rooms?

    Candy Dogood, it’s easy to just blame the IDOC administrators and completely ignore the valid issues that have been raised by other commentators and the Governor himself today. But that’s a cheap hit and doesn’t help to solve the problems IDOC is currently facing.


  30. - Just_another_llinoisan - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 4:08 pm:

    1) Here’s the thing, we pay for people to be in prison, an outbreak in the jails/prison impacts people outside of the jail/prison because there are people entering the jail/prison ALL THE TIME. 2) IN order to make it feasible to do social distancing for everyone in the jail/prison you need to release people. 3) Care in jail/prison is super expensive because it is expensive to provide in that environment so cheaper to do in community (plus people can they be put on Medicaid which is picked up mostly by the feds rather than the state) 4) $ to put people in housing would cost less than jail/prison, 5) these measures - releasing people would make it safer for the community members because people who enter and exit would be less likely to contract it. We need tests for everyone though - and people who enter and exit the prisons - people who work there and care for people deserve protection too.


  31. - Just_another_llinoisan - Thursday, Apr 2, 20 @ 4:12 pm:

    TO BE CLEAR - infections in the jail/prison mean infections in the community because of people who work in the jails/prisons - coming and going and they, if exposed can create community transmission. We need to keep community safe and that means keeping prisoners safe. Infections easily transmit in these contained close conditions.


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