SPRINGFIELD — On Monday, Illinois Director of Public Health Ngozi Ezike announced the first confirmed death of someone in IDOC custody due to COVID-19.
So far, prison officials have confirmed a total of 12 IDOC prisoners confirmed sick with COVID-19, and 16 staff. IDOC updates these numbers on its site daily, but to track growth, Uptown People’s Law Center has begun recording and charting the data here.
Less than two weeks ago, civil rights groups sent an open letter to Governor Pritzker asking him to grant clemency to all elderly and/or infirm prisoners, as well as those with fewer than 180 days left in their sentence, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 to Illinois’ prisons. Last week, Governor Pritzker ordered all prisons closed to new prisoners due to the pandemic.
In prisons, many of the most basic disease prevention measures are against the rules or simply impossible for prisoners to follow. Covering one’s mouth when coughing is not feasible when handcuffed behind one’s back. Social distancing can’t be practiced in confined spaces. The Governor admitted that there are not enough cells to allow all prisoners who have symptoms of the coronavirus to be isolated.
“Sitting alone in a cell begging for help is one of the most terrifying ways to die that I can imagine. Our hearts go out to the family of the prisoner who died,” said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC). “The only way to stop this deadly virus in prison is to get people out. We again urge the Governor to use every possible means to release the elderly, medically vulnerable, and those with little time remaining on their sentences as quickly as humanly possible. Not doing so will inevitably mean more unnecessary deaths.” UPLC is co-counsel on Lippert v. Jeffreys, a class action lawsuit against IDOC, brought to improve the health care provided in Illinois prisons.