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More than 1,000 Illinois prisoners to be released under COVID-19 lawsuit settlement

The Illinois Department of Corrections will identify medically vulnerable and elderly prisoners eligible for early release or electronic home monitoring.

As of Friday, 118 inmates at Stateville Correctional Center have been confirmed with coronavirus; two of them have died. Among employees, there are 52 confirmed cases.
The settlement reached March 23, 2021 will result in the immediate release of more than 1,000 people from IDOC facilities,
Sun-Times file

More than 1,000 prisoners in Illinois are set to be released after a lawsuit settlement aimed at protecting medically vulnerable prisoners from COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Corrections will identify medically vulnerable and elderly prisoners eligible for early release or electronic home monitoring.

Additionally, the Corrections Department will give credit for good behavior to prisoners within nine months of their release date. Up to 60 days will be given in the next month to prisoners deemed low and medium risk, the settlement states.

That will result in the immediate release of over 1,000 prisoners, according to the Uptown People’s Law Center.

Civil rights lawyers filed a federal suit in April 2020 arguing the risk of spreading COVID-19 in prisons poses “catastrophic consequences” for prisoners, staff and the communities and hospitals that serve them.

Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center, said prison officials have had the tools to identify and release prisoners who are eligible for years.

“But until now, they have not used these tools,” Mills said in a statement. “As a result of this settlement, prison officials will finally begin to address this issue.”

According to the settlement, the Corrections Department will continue to identify and evaluate medically vulnerable prisoners for release — even after the pandemic. Also, some prison staff will also undergo training on the Americans with Disabilities Act to help implement COVID-19 protections.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than ​10,800 Illinois prisoners and 4,200 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, according to the department of corrections. As of Monday night, 57 prisoners and 90 staff members were infected with the virus.

A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the Corrections Department has “consistently,” reviewed its population for eligibility to be granted up to 180 days of credit and claimed they have stepped up these efforts during the pandemic.

Between March 2020 and March 2021, 2,472 inmates have left IDOC custody with an earned discretionary sentencing credit, according to spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh.

Lindsey Hess, spokeswoman for Corrections Director Rob Jeffreys, said it was too early to determine how many prisoners would be released under the agreement.

She said the Department of Corrections already had a draft policy similar to the one reached in the agreement that was set to be implemented July 1. The settlement would accelerate the implementation of the policy by 90 days, she said in a statement.

Sheila Bedi, of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, said that releasing some prisoners back to their communities is the best way to protect the health and well-being of people in prison.

“IDOC should view this agreement as a first step towards maximizing its power to release people from prison and reunite families. The Illinois legislature has provided IDOC with significant discretion to release people, and it should continue to do so,” Bedi said.

Read the settlement here