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1st Illinois prison inmate dies of COVID-19, health officials say

The man was imprisoned at Stateville Correctional Center, where officials say there are now 12 men who are hospitalized, “including several requiring ventilators.”

Stateville Correctional Center
A man incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center has died of COVID-19.
Sun-Times file photo

Health officials announced Monday the death of a Stateville Correctional Center inmate from COVID-19, the first confirmed death from the disease at an Illinois state prison.

The death comes four days after the Illinois Department of Corrections placed Stateville in suburban Crest Hill and Sheridan Correctional Center under a two-week lockdown after inmates and staff tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Monday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that “12 men who were incarcerated at Stateville are now hospitalized” with COVID-19, “including several requiring ventilators.”

Another 77 men incarcerated at Stateville are isolated after showing symptoms of the disease, the department said. Nearly a dozen staff are also isolated.

Inmates and staff at seven facilities operated by the Correction Department have tested positive for the coronavirus. The department did not respond to a request to comment about the death at Stateville or the rising number of inmates and staff who have contracted the virus.

Criminal justice groups have fervently called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker for weeks to release as many elderly and medically frail inmates from state prisons as possible amid the pandemic.

Advocates have also called on Pritzker to immediately order the release of prisoners who are already scheduled to go home within four months as well as to release all individuals with viable clemency petitions and those in custody awaiting parole revocation hearings.

“The only way to stop this deadly virus in prison is to get people out,” said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center. “Not doing so will inevitably mean more unnecessary deaths.”

Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at a news conference Monday that Stateville “has an older population of incarcerated individuals,” putting them at higher risk of becoming seriously ill or possibly dying if they contract COVID-19.

“Congregate settings such as Stateville or any correctional center pose unique challenges to stopping the spread of disease and protecting the health of individuals who live and work there,” Ezike said.

“Our focus right now is that these incarcerated individuals receive the appropriate medical care that they deserve and need.”

There were nearly 7,800 state prisoners age 50 or older at the end of 2019, making up around 20% of the Illinois prison population, state figures show.