COVID-19 cases resurging in Illinois prisons

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Hundreds of inmates and staff members within Illinois prisons are currently positive for COVID-19, according to the latest IDOC data available online.

It’s a large increase from the single digits seen this fall, according to Alan Mills with the Uptown People’s Law Center who says this resurgence can be attributed to low vaccination rates among staff.

The Illinois Department of Corrections is reporting that a total of 401 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 this past week in addition to 302 staff members for a total of 703 active cases within correctional facilities. 

IDOC did not respond to requests for comment.

Of the cases, 79 are among inmates and 26 are staff in Southern Illinois facilities.

The Southern Illinois prison with the most cases among inmates is Big Muddy River Correctional Center with 37, followed by Shawnee with 33, as of Monday, data shows. 

Case counts are updated daily Monday through Friday at approximately 5 p.m. on IDOC’s website, according to IDOC. 

Since July 1, correctional facilities have accounted for 18.6% of cases statewide, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data. The facilities were one of the highest sources of outbreaks next to daycares, factories and group homes. 

Mills, the executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said it’s his understanding that only about half of correctional staff members have been vaccinated, despite a mid-October mandate from the governor to do so. The mandate was first announced in August. 

He said he believes the vaccination rate among staff is part of the reason COVID-19 is making a resurgence in Illinois prisons. 

In addition to about half of the staff remaining unvaccinated, Mills said his office frequently gets reports that IDOC staff is not compliant with the department’s mask mandate.

“We still get a significant number of reports that staff are not compliant with the mask mandate at all times, that they tend to wear it below their nose when supervisors aren’t present, which is, of course, most of the time,” Mills said.

Mills said one of the barriers to keeping people safe is a lack of staff.

“They’re vastly understaffed … Obviously, if you don’t have a staff, it’s harder to do any of the jobs that you’re supposed to be doing,” Mills said.

Vaccine mandates should be enforced as soon as possible, Mills said.

The main union supporting guards working for the Department of Corrections, AFSCME, has opposed any mandate for a vaccine and is currently in arbitration with Gov. JB Pritzker’s office over the matter. 

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December 27, 2021 at 09:34PM

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