A group of civil rights attorneys initiated a united legal challenge Thursday against Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Corrections, demanding the immediate release of Illinois prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus.
The endeavor includes a proposed class-action lawsuit filed Thursday morning in federal court that names Pritzker and Rob Jeffreys, acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, as defendants.
Ten IDOC prisoners are named as plaintiffs in the federal filing.
“To effectively prevent the continued spread of the COVID-19 infection in prison communities, the state must take urgent steps to release, furlough, or transfer to home detention all that qualify under the law, and particularly those who are elderly and medically vulnerable,” the suit claims.
The complaint also alleges the state of “not acting with sufficient urgency” and urges judicial intervention because “people are going to die unnecessarily.”
Inmates who are “elderly and medically vulnerable, and those with pathways to release, must be released now,” the suit states.
Attorneys have also promised a federal habeas corpus action and a direct petition to be filed with the Illinois Supreme Court.
Thursday’s suit comes after public health officials on Monday announced the death of an inmate from COVID-19. The inmate was housed at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill.
“Stateville’s reality might have been avoided if the Governor and IDOC had acted with the urgency and scope required to mitigate the oncoming harm,” the suit claims. “Instead, IDOC has continued to house thousands of elderly, disabled, and medically vulnerable prisoners who could be released, many of whom are approaching their release dates and have homes in which they could more safely quarantine.”
At his daily afternoon press conference on Tuesday, Pritzker said the IDOC is reviewing inmate histories “to prioritize the release of older and more vulnerable residents while ensuring public safety.”
Pritzker added that nearly 300 female and low-level offenders were released that afternoon.
“We’re working hard to balance the need to free up as much space in our prisons as possible with making sure that we’re not releasing those who may pose a risk to their communities,” Pritzker said Tuesday.
As of Thursday morning, there were 77 confirmed cases of the virus — 52 inmates and 25 staff members — across seven state correctional facilities, according to the IDOC’s website.
Attorneys and advocates involved in the suits include Sheila A. Bedi, Luke Fernbach, Emily M. Grant and Terah Tollner of the Community Justice Civil Rights Clinic; Vanessa del Valle of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center; Jennifer Soble of the Illinois Prison Project; Alan Mills and Elizabeth Mazur of the Uptown People’s Law Center; Sarah Grady of Loevy & Loevy; and Amanda Antholt of Equip for Equality.
This case is James Money, et al. v. J.B. Pritzker, et al. 20 C 02093.