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Illinois DOC resumes intake of inmates after COVID-19 variant surge

Illinois Department of Corrections Officers
File - Illinois Times
/
Capitol News Illinois
File photo provided by Illinois Times.

The Illinois Department of Corrections resumed intake of inmates from county jails last week after a two-week pause due to a COVID-19 spike.

As COVID-19 cases at Illinois correctional facilities continue trending downward, space previously used to safely quarantine and isolate incarcerated individuals who had been exposed or tested positive for COVID-19 will now be available for county jail transfers, according to a statement released by IDOC.

IDOC paused intake of inmates on Jan. 11, citing high transmission rates due to the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. IDOC resumed intake into their facilities on Jan. 27. In that span, hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Illinois have decreased from more than 7,200 to 3,805 as of Monday.

Sheriffs around the state complained the move to pause transfers to IDOC put more strain on county jails that continued to house, feed, clothe and provide medical attention for offenders awaiting transfer to IDOC. Before a transfer to IDOC, inmates are held in isolation for 14 days as a quarantine measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

This is the second time IDOC halted intakes from county jails during the pandemic. The Illinois Sheriff’s Association filed suit against IDOC in March 2020. An appellate court sided with the agency and the Pritzker administration in August 2020, finding that the governor has the authority to control the movement of persons within a disaster area under the authority of a disaster proclamation.”

A new executive order resumed the transfer of inmates to IDOC, but stated the scheduling of inmates from county jails was under the sole discretion of the director of IDOC. The director must ensure the health and safety of the transferring individuals and the inmates and staff of the facilities receiving them.

IDOC resumed county jail intakes on Aug. 3, 2020.

Gov. JB Pritzker ordered all IDOC guards to be vaccinated in August, but the union took the case to arbitration. The arbitrator ultimately sided with the governor, but that was in late December. Guards were to have their first shot by the end of January.

The Better Government Association reported that in early December 2021, there were fewer than 160 COVID-19 cases throughout IDOC. Six weeks later, that number jumped to 3,300 inmates and 1,100 staff members.

On Monday, IDOC’s website reported 1,022 cases among the staff and 2,800 cases among offenders. The highest offender positivity rate was at Robinson Correctional Center with 409 cases. The eastern Illinois facility has a capacity of 1,200 inmates.

Although IDOC paused intakes to its facilities, they did continue accepting individuals from county jails who were scheduled to be released from custody the same day they are transferred.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Beth Hundsdorfer is a veteran investigative reporter who spent nearly 20 years at the Belleville News-Democrat, 13 of which were spent on the investigative beat. She also covered cops and courts.
Capitol News Illinois
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