Gov. J.B. Pritzker is allowing some prisoners to be freed from Illinois prisons under expanded furlough rules.
Pritzker signed an executive order Monday allowing prisoners that are especially susceptible to the disease to leave facilities during the extent of his statewide disaster declaration, which he extended to April 30.
Executive Order 2020-21 suspends a 14-day time limit for furloughs as well as a need to seek “available” medical services under the Unified Code of Corrections, giving Rob Jeffreys, acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, authority to release “medically vulnerable” prisoners to home confinement “for up to the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations” related to coronavirus.
At the same time, Pritzker’s administration responded Monday to a suit alleging it wasn’t acting swiftly enough to prevent the spread of the virus in Illinois prisons and calling plaintiffs’ requests for broader prisoner releases “against the [s]tate’s and the public’s interests.”
“The [c]ourt and the public need only watch Governor Pritzker’s daily press briefing, or review the websites of the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Illinois Department of Public Health and any number of other state offices and agencies, to see that the [g]overnor, the [d]epartment and the [s]tate have implemented immediate and drastic steps to address the COVID-19 public health emergency to protect all Illinois citizens, including those incarcerated in state prisons,” the 40-page complaint alleges.
It cites Pritzker’s executive order Monday as well as his suspension of new admissions to jails and prisons, a boost to sentencing credits and use of electronic monitoring for pregnant and postpartum offenders, among other things.
Money v. Pritzker, No. 20 C 2093, filed last week in federal court, cites the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the state’s response argues the judiciary shouldn’t step in and grant broader relief.
“There is no question that COVID-19 poses unprecedented risks to the health of all citizens, including prisoners. And while courts may issue temporary emergency relief in appropriate cases, the [c]ourt cannot do so here, where the underlying legal claims lack a likelihood of success and where the requested relief — here an unprecedented mandatory immediate prison release of as many as 16,000 convicted felons — is manifestly against the State’s and the public’s interests,” the state’s filing alleges.
A response by the plaintiffs is due Wednesday. The court will issue a ruling by mail or set a “telephonic hearing” for April 10.
Alan S. Mills of the Uptown People’s Law Center, which represents plaintiffs in the litigation, could not be reached for comment.