New Surge Of COVID Is Spreading “Like Wildfire” In Illinois Prisons

With COVID-19 raging throughout the United States, there is a growing sense of desperation among people in prison. Pablo Mendoza, who recently got out of prison, said that those inside “are tired of the lockdown.”

They spend 23.5 hours a day in their cells. They have not had visits from their loved ones for almost a year.

Those who have caught COVID and are believed to be immune get out for yard time. Others are “weighing options,” according to Mendoza: “Stay safe, or get the virus so they can get some open air. They are willing to risk it; this is the mood right now.”

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COVID-19 Compels America To Rethink Who We Lock Up In Prison

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the limits of our criminal justice system.

Now, we have an opportunity to change it for the better. We should start by following the science, advocating for our most vulnerable populations to have access to protections, treatments and vaccines.

Then we need to ask a bigger question — whether it makes sense to incarcerate so many people in the first place.

Even as the first doses of the vaccine are administered, we are in for a tough winter. And people locked up in prisons, jails and detention centers are among those most at risk of contracting COVID-19, becoming gravely ill, or worse.

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As COVID-19 Rips Through Cook County Jail, Time To Take A Hard Look In The Mirror

Whatever your opinions are regarding the ways we address the growing use of pretrial detention in America, I hope you’ll see that what is happening in Cook County Jail right now far exceeds the issue of bail. What we have is a human crisis that calls for action, compassion and courage.

This month, the jail hit an all-time high of more than 300 COVID-19 cases among the incarcerated population, and dozens among the jail staff. Scores of residents and public servants funnel in and out of the facility every day and return home to their communities. A hotspot at the jail creates a risk for all. Since the first COVID-19 case at the jail was reported in March, more than 1,100 people have tested positive inside the facility. Now with winter upon us, the jail’s infection totals have climbed back to April levels.

This threat to public health dictates that we must exhaust all avenues to drastically reduce the population of roughly 5,500 so social distancing is even an option inside the facility.

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IDOC COVID-19 Incarcerated Individual Contact Tracker

Since March, we’ve received more than 500 updates about conditions in Illinois prisons.

We are still using our tracker to monitor each prison. If you talk with an incarcerated person, please tell us about the conditions at their facility. We want to know if they have adequate access to phones and to video calls, if they are receiving hygiene and cleaning products, and whether there have been any other issues in their facilities.

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Mothers Are Pushing to Free Their Children From Prison During COVID

“Mom and Pops,

I could no longer breathe too good. So I alerted the med tech. I was tested for COVID-19 and it came back positive. Right now, I’m in the south house in a cell by myself. I love you guys very much.”

This is an email that no parent should ever have to read. Matthew Echevarria, a survivor of Chicago police torture who was convicted of a crime he did not commit, sent this email to his parents Denise and Brian Bronis from Menard Correctional Center where he is currently incarcerated.

Matthew is one of 30,888 people incarcerated in an Illinois prison in perpetual fear of dying in a cage from COVID-19. South House, as Matthew refers to it, is a portion of Menard that had deteriorated so much that it was closed down. 

According to Matthew’s mother, Denise Joyce-Bronis, South House is a decrepit mice-infested area that is now being used as a quarantine space for inmates that test positive for COVID-19. Like many other sick inmates, Matthew’s health got to a near fatal point before he alerted the medical technician out of fear of being put in South House.

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