Illinois Prisons Halt Admissions From County Jails to Slow Spread of Coronavirus

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday issued an executive order halting new prisoners to the Illinois Department of Corrections amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Effective Thursday, all admission to the Department of Corrections from Illinois county jails are suspended, the executive order states. Only a limited number of “essential transfers” and exceptions made in consultation with county sheriffs will be admitted to prisons.

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association rebuked the move, saying the order was counterproductive to halting the spread of the new virus within the correctional system and put every county across the state at higher risk.

“We’re on the front lines and local Sheriffs need to be able to safely and securely transfer healthy inmates out of their facility to a state correctional center to mitigate risk, prevent overcrowding and slow or minimize the spread within the correctional system.” Jim Kaitschuk, Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, said in a statement.

Five Department of Corrections staff and seven inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday, according to the IDOC website.

In Cook County, the sheriff’s office announced Thursday that 24 detainees and nine employees at Cook County Jail have tested positive for the virus.

Last week, the sheriff’s office also released several detainees held on low-level, non-violent charges who are at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Several civil rights organizations signed an open letter last week to the governor asking no more prisoners be brought into Illinois prisons because of the threat of the novel coronavirus.

Among those organizations was the Uptown People’s Law Center, which commended the governor for issuing the order.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t happen until after some people in prison were already infected with COVID-19,” Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center said in a statement. “Now we need to stop it from spreading by getting as many people as possible out of prison, starting with those most at risk of death from the virus.”

Illinois state prisons had already suspended visits to prevent the spread of the virus among guards and inmates.

On Thursday, Pritzker and health officials announced an additional 673 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 2,538 cases. So far, 26 people have died from the outbreak in Illinois.

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