March 23, 2021

Over 1,000 People to be Freed from IL Prisons

Statewide lawsuit regarding IDOC COVID-19 response settled today

ILLINOIS – Today, a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), Richard v. Jeffreys, which calls for the release of prisoners who are medically vulnerable to COVID-19, reached a settlement (available here). Lawyers from Equip for Equality, Illinois Prison Project, Loevy & Loevy, MacArthur Justice Center, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law, and Uptown People’s Law Center filed this suit in April 2020. After months of litigation and negotiation, the state will now improve IDOC’s use of available release options for prisoners, with an emphasis on protecting medically vulnerable and elderly people from COVID-19.

With the settlement, IDOC agrees that it will continue to identify medically vulnerable and elderly prisoners who are eligible for early release or electronic detention, even after the pandemic. IDOC will award up to 60 days of earned sentencing credit (“time off for good behavior”) for all qualifying prisoners who are already within 9 months of their release date. This will lead to the immediate release of over 1,000 people. The IDOC will also train relevant prison staff on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and how to provide accommodations to people with disabilities during COVID-19.

“For years, prison officials have had the tools available to release prisoners who no longer need to be in prison. But until now, they have not used these tools. As the federal court monitor overseeing medical care in Illinois prisons has repeatedly stated, and as prison officials have admitted, there are hundreds of elderly patients living in prison infirmaries, at great cost to the state, who pose no risk of harm to anyone. As a result of this settlement, prison officials will finally begin to address this issue,” said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center.

Sheila Bedi, from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, said, “As a result of this agreement, over 1,000 people in IDOC custody will return to their communities and families, where they belong. This pandemic is not over, and even in the wake of vaccines, the best way to protect the health and wellbeing of people in prison is to release them to their communities. IDOC should view this agreement as a first step towards maximizing its power to release people from prison and reunite families. The Illinois legislature has provided IDOC with significant discretion to release people, and it should continue to do so.”

Carolyn Shapiro, a professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law and former Illinois Solicitor General, explained: “Illinois sentencing laws are among the harshest and most inflexible in the country. We are very glad the state is using the modest flexibility it has to prioritize the health and safety of medically vulnerable prisoners.”

“Decades of overcrowding and a reluctance to use tools to decarcerate has left Illinois’ prison population extraordinarily vulnerable, putting everyone at risk. The policies IDOC has adopted to safely reduce the prison population are just the first of many steps we must take as a state.  What happens behind prison walls affects us all. This settlement moves Illinois one step closer to a humane system that recognizes and treats incarcerated people as just that: people,” said Jennifer Soble, executive director of Illinois Prison Project.

Amanda Antholt, a disability rights attorney from Equip for Equality, stated, “People with disabilities throughout Illinois prisons remain at increased risk of very severe injury or even death from COVID-19. This lawsuit was an effort to fight for their lives. We are glad to report that the state has worked with us to prioritize medically vulnerable people for early release and now will provide much-needed training to the facilities on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the needs of people with COVID-19 in prison during the pandemic.”