Our Response to COVID-19

Our hearts and thoughts go out to those directly affected by this unprecedented event and we appreciate those on the front line working to contain the coronavirus. We continue to monitor the situation, to work closely with our allies on the ground, and to call on local and state officials to address public health concerns around COVID-19. Our work continues to focus specifically on how COVID-19 impacts the detained population—one of the most vulnerable to the pandemic.
All of our offices are closed in response to guidance from the CDC and local authorities; we are continuing our work remotely. Please note that under the circumstances, our receipt of and response to legal mail will likely be delayed. 





A primary focus of the MacArthur Justice Center during this time will be ensuring the health and safety of those detained in jails and prisons.





The Illinois office has signed onto the Chicago Community Bond Fund’s open letter to Cook County regarding COVID-19 and Cook County Jail. According to the Illinois office, roughly 1,500 of Cook County Jail’s inmates awaiting trial are being held only because they can’t afford a money bond—and they remain one of the most vulnerable to COVID19. This is both a constitutional violation and a public health disaster. The Illinois office calls for their immediate release.

On 3/20, the Illinois office submitted an amicus brief in support of Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli’s emergency petition to have detainees (including those with medical conditions, pregnant women, non-violent offenders, and those who are eligible for probation) immediately released from jail because of the risk of the coronavirus infection.

On 3/23, Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli appeared in court to argue for the release of those detained populations most vulnerable to COVID-19. After hearing arguments, Cook County Criminal Court Chief Judge LeRoy Martin, entered an order requiring criminal legal stakeholders to move forward with expedited bond review and increased frequency of bond hearings in order to reduce the jail population.

We continue to monitor the progress of the county stakeholders and their commitment to reduce the jail population. As of 4/3, that progress is insufficient. The population of the Cook County Jail stands at 4,661—just down by 50 from 4/2. For a more comprehensive breakdown, click HERE.

Elderly prisoners and those with underlying health conditions are being punished by confinement, not given likely death sentences. We call for the immediate release of the detained population—one of the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

We joined a coalition of the area’s leading civil rights attorneys and community advocates and filed three cases seeking release of prisoners: a federal class action suit against the Governor and Illinois Department of Corrections; a federal habeas corpus action; and a direct action to the Illinois Supreme Court. All three cases demand the swift release of those prisoners most vulnerable to the epidemic before they fall victim to it.  Copies of the Federal complaint and its attachments can be found here and here. The Petitions filed in the Illinois Supreme Court can be found here and here.




The Louisiana office has signed onto a letter to Louisiana officials regarding COVID 19 prevention and protection in Louisiana facilities. The Louisiana office has also condemned the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office for opposing bond reductions for persons awaiting trial on misdemeanor and non-violent charges. Assistant District Attorneys in the office of Leon Cannizzaro, Jr., have filed objections to bond reduction motions filed on behalf of such persons in numerous misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases. The result, according to the Louisiana office, is an increase of the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the community at large.

On 3/26, the Louisiana office submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of an emergency habeas corpus petition filed by the Orleans Public Defenders. The brief argues that release of persons held on non-violent felony charges is essential to avoid undermining the City’s efforts to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the community at large.




The Mississippi office issued a letter to government officials warning about the dangers of a coronavirus outbreak in Mississippi’s prisons and jails. According to the Mississippi office, one of the biggest public health concerns is that such an outbreak could result in Mississippi’s limited number of ICU beds and respirators being overrun with dozens of patients from a single prison or jail.  

The new report identifies roughly 2,500 detainees who have been in jail longer than 90 days.  More than 575 people have been stuck in county jails over a year.  The MacArthur Justice Center estimates that Mississippi counties spend at least $85 million each year on pretrial incarceration.  The report is available at www.MSjaildata.com.




The Missouri office has co-written a letter to local and state officials on COVID19 concerns and policy recommendations with Arch City Defenders, ACLU Missouri, Action St. Louis, and the Migrant and Immigration Community Action Project. The letter calls on local and state officials to address the public health concerns and how they specifically impact marginalized and vulnerable populations.

In light of the spread of COVID-19 and the well-documented risks for detained populations, the Missouri office is asking a federal court to curtail statewide parole revocation proceedings and release certain categories of people incarcerated solely for parole violations.


Please read this letter on #COVID19 concerns/policy recommendations we've co-written with ArchCity Defenders, Inc., ACLU…

Posted by The Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center on Friday, March 13, 2020