On the morning of March 7, 2020, UUPMI sent a letter to
Rob Jeffries, Acting Director Illinois Department of Corrections
and Jim Kaitschuk, Executive Director Illinois Sheriffs’ Association. The letter addresses concerns over how COVID-19 may affect people who work and live in Illinois prisons and jails. The letter reads:
"Rob Jeffries, Acting Director
Illinois Department of Corrections
Jim Kaitschuk, Executive Director
Illinois Sheriffs’ Association
March 7, 2020
We are writing to express our concern over how COVID-19 may affect people who work and live in Illinois prisons and jails. As Unitarian Universalists, we respect and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We care deeply about the well being of your staff and those incarcerated. This virus knows no distinction between those who are inside and those who are out. We urge you to take urgent action to assure a safe, fair, and humane process to contain the spread of COVID-19 among people in custody.
When COVID-19 enters a facility, it is likely to spread rapidly. We are asking that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and county jails refrain from moving anyone who is infected into solitary confinement or from placing an entire facility on lockdown. We urge you to plan now for placement of people who are ill on medical units, and to immediately hire sufficient medical staff to ensure that understaffing will not result in unnecessary deaths of people in custody.1 We especially hope that people who are ill will not suffer the additional pain of solitary confinement.
Medical teams must be dispatched to jails, prisons, halfway houses, and other locked facilities to assess and treat patients. An outbreak in IDOC facilities may lead to many people failing to come to work due to illness. Physicians on-site must have the authority to dictate necessary changes in facility conditions in order to treat the sick and stem the spread of the illness. We are concerned that if a prison or jail population is infected at a time when the virus is widespread in the larger community, and hospitals are at their limits, the death rate within the facility could be substantial. Many prisoners are elderly or have compromised immune systems.
We are asking that the IDOC and county sheriffs statewide consider immediately ordering a one-time review of all people in custody who are elderly or ill, with an eye toward providing medical furloughs or compassionate release to as many of them as possible. Doing so would not only protect them, but also other incarcerated people, officers and staff by decreasing the strain on resources within the prisons once the virus does hit. Ordering a one- time review does not necessarily mean releasing people now, but the review needs to occur immediately since it cannot be accomplished overnight. Given the overcrowding in some facilities, immediate planning is vital to preventing a humanitarian disaster.
We are grateful to you for your careful consideration of this letter, and confident that your early action will save lives. Moreover, we hope that you communicate your plans with your staff, those incarcerated, and the friends and family connected to these people in your care.
Very truly yours,
Rev. Allison Farnum
Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois
1 See Lippert v. Baldwin, which mandates a staffing plan that addresses the quantity and quality of medical professionals, health care spaces, and medical equipment in each facility."
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive