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Pastors pray outside Cook County jail for release of inmates to help protect them from the coronavirus

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli was expected to present an emergency petition to a judge Monday morning.

Rev. Jason Lydon, of the Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, leads a prayer with other faith leaders outside Cook County jail.
Rev. Jason Lydon, of the Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, leads a prayer with other faith leaders outside Cook County jail.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A group of religious leaders from across the city hope to add the power of prayer to an effort to have large numbers of inmates released from the Cook County Jail in the wake of the spreading coronavirus.

“The most important thing is to understand that incarcerated people are just as much a part of our families as people who are on the outside,” said Jason Lydon, the pastor at Second Unitarian Church in Lake View, as he stood outside the jail complex Monday. “It is the responsibility of judges in this particular moment to get people free for the purpose of ensuring individual health, as well as community health.”

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli was expected to appear before a judge at the George Leighton Criminal Courthouse later Monday to present an emergency petition seeking the mass release of inmates — particularly the most medically vulnerable among them.

“The vast majority of these folks are all going to be released anyhow, and we are seeing across the country prisoners who are getting infected [with the coronavirus] and are quickly going to turn prisons and jails into huge infection sights,” Lydon said.

The group of pastors wants the release of “as many people as possible for the safety of the city.”

But isn’t there a concern inmates — particularly those with lengthy criminal histories — might be less likely to follow social distancing rules?

“It is clear to me that the folks who are inside are just as concerned as those of us on the outside about their health,” Lydon said. “The majority of folks who get targeted by our current legal system are black and brown and poor. People who have money are already able to get themselves out of these jails.”