Attorney: 1,000 Illinois inmates to go free under virus suit


Illinois has agreed to the early release of some low to medium risk inmates as part of a federal coronavirus lawsuit settlement

March 24, 2021, 12:34 a.m.

3 min read

CHICAGO – Approximately 1,000 Illinois inmates slated for release in the next nine months could soon be released as part of a federal lawsuit settlement filed in state prisons last spring amid a growing COVID-19 health crisis, said Tuesday.

The settlement calls for the release of low to medium risk inmates who are within nine months of their release date and are eligible for certain credits, according to a court document filed Tuesday. The Illinois Department of Corrections agreed to “do its best” to process the awards within the next month, the document said.

Attorney Sheila Bedi said the settlement covers about 1,000 inmates. She also said that she believes thousands more inmates should be released.

“There remains a public health crisis,” Bedi, a professor at Northwestern University, told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s still a real problem.”

In a statement, Governor JB Pritzker’s press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said the Corrections Department has been rigorously reviewing prisoners’ records to find those eligible for 180 days or less of the discretionary credit earned.

“Since the March 9, 2020 Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamation based on this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry has been prioritizing these eligibility reviews to determine the availability of space to quarantine or isolate the perpetrator population in accordance with CDC guidelines and – Limits increase the number of men and women who may be exposed, but always with a view to ensuring public safety, “Abudayyeh said on Tuesday.

A consortium of Chicago civil rights attorneys and community activists filed the lawsuit seeking the release of up to 13,000 inmates. The lawyers argued that prisons “pose a particular risk for the spread of COVID-19, with disastrous consequences not only for prisoners and staff, but also for their communities and the hospitals that serve them.” The lawsuit alleged that Pritzker and others did not act quickly enough to identify vulnerable prisoners for early release.

At the time, US District Judge Robert Dow denied the emergency aid, stating that he had “found no compelling reason for a federal court to interfere in the state’s efforts to contain the problem.” In a 48-page statement last year, Dow said stakeholders had taken steps that “clearly pass the constitutional pattern” to contain the spread of the virus.

Since the pandemic began, 87 inmates and one employee have died of COVID-19, and nearly 11,000 inmates and 4,200 employees tested positive, according to statistics from the Illinois Department of Corrections. The death toll has slowed since the prison system began universal testing and voluntary vaccination for inmates and staff.