We welcome Governor JB Pritzker’s decision to halt transfers between county jails and state prisons. The Governor’s most recent executive order establishes a plan to implement rigorous testing and quarantine protocols before incarcerated individuals are transferred. Congregate settings continue to be at highest risk of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association filed a lawsuit against the Governor to force a resumption of transfers and is now pushing for the state to take thousands of incarcerated people at once, which wouldn’t allow for adequate testing or quarantines.
On Wednesday, the Logan County Sheriff’s Office tried transferring seven people to Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro, according to news reports. Upon arrival at Graham, two of the individuals tested positive for COVID-19. This puts the other five incarcerated individuals and every staff member involved in the transport at risk. People at county jails throughout Illinois have tested positive for COVID-19.
COVID-19 is an unprecedented threat to those who are incarcerated, prison and jail staff, and the communities near prisons. Before the pandemic, a federal court established prisons in Illinois provide inadequate health care. Since the crisis began, prisons have been low on the state’s priority list for testing, which is a key aspect of the strategy to restore movement. If a prison experiences a virus outbreak, as happened at Stateville Correctional Center, those who are incarcerated will need to use community hospitals. Many of these hospitals have minimal ICU capacity.
Prison staff go to work and then home to their families, neighbors, and stores. At work, they care for an aging population in what public health experts consider the highest of high-risk settings. Governor Pritkzer’s executive order mandates testing and quarantines before transfers. This protects prison staff, people who are incarcerated, and everyone living in prison communities.