Prison watchdog urges Illinois Department of Corrections to make COVID-19 plans public

(The Center Square) — A prison watchdog said the Illinois Department of Corrections needs to make its plans for addressing COVID-19 public.

“Prison health is problematic on a good day,” the John Howard Association said. “In Illinois, ongoing litigation has both exposed and is working to remedy the unfortunate quality of and limited access to medical care available to people in our prisons. Court-appointed experts have submitted detailed reports pointing to the many inhumane and constitutionally violative practices around the medical care provided inside Illinois prisons.”

The statement included data from a poll done by the association from those who are in state custody and of 12,780 people who responded from 21 facilities between April 2018 and May 2019, 65 percent expressed dissatisfaction with medical care and 78 percent were dissatisfied with IDOC’s provisions of hygiene items such as soap and hand sanitizer.

“We are not medical experts and do not offer specific advice on disease prevention and treatment,” the statement said. “But as a prison watchdog and advocacy organization, we are concerned that the health of prisoners in the face of this new pandemic will not rank as a public health priority.

“We urge the Illinois Department of Corrections and all criminal justice agencies that hold people in custody to have a plan in place, to be prepared to execute it with no delay and to make it publicly available,” the John Howard Association statement said.

The Illinois Department of Corrections said Tuesday that no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in prisons.

“The Department is modifying its current Pandemic Influenza and Continuity of Operations plans to ensure we are prepared for a potential outbreak of COVID-19,” IDOC spokesperson Lindsey Hess said. “People who are experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus, or who may have been exposed to the illness, may not be permitted to visit an IDOC correctional facility.”

“The Department is working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to ensure the health of people in custody and our staff,” Hess said. “At this time, the Illinois Department of Corrections has not identified any staff or incarcerated individuals with the coronavirus.”

Hess said IDOC also has a visitor screening form.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday afternoon eight new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the state, bringing the total to 19, including two cases in Kane and McHenry counties.

“The [new] cases include a Kane County woman in her 60s and a McHenry County teen, neither of whom had a history of travel to an affected area and no connection to a known case of COVID-19,” the governor’s office said. “Public health officials are identifying and contacting all close contacts.”

As to how the state is handling those in state care, the governor touched on long-term care facilities.

“Paying special attention to our nursing homes, our veterans home, and long-term care facilities,” Pritzker said. “We’ve implemented new staffing procedures and issued strict guidelines around restricting visitors at the facilities that we control.”

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