THE JAIL CYCLE: Spreading COVID-19

New research has found that nearly one in six cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and Illinois can be connected to people moving through the Cook County Jail, which at one point was dubbed the largest-known source of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

According to a new study published Thursday in the journal Health Affairs, cycling through Cook County Jail is associated with 15.7% of all documented cases of the virus in Illinois and 15.9% in Chicago through mid-April.

“As the pandemic began, I realized this was going to be a huge driver,” Eric Reinhart, a University of Chicago researcher who co-authored the report, told WTTW.

“The jail cycle – arresting people, cycling through the jail and back into their communities – was going to be a huge driver of COVID-19 spreading to communities.”

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GOVERNOR PRITZKER CALL GOVERNOR WOLF

After collectively spending nearly 90 years in prison, Freddy Butler and Oliver Macklin will soon be heading home.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf officially commuted their sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

The men will spend at least a year in a halfway house before being released on parole.

Butler, 72, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1970. He has been incarcerated for more than 50 years. The Board of Pardons recommended his commutation.

Macklin, who is 63, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1986. He was recommended during the same session. The board must vote unanimously to recommend someone for a commutation.

Since the tough-on-crime era, the number of people serving life without the possibility of parole has ballooned.

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COOK COUNTY JAIL: Death Trap

The day after her husband died on Easter Sunday, Cassandra Greer-Lee’s emotions swung from shock to pain to confusion. She wondered whether she did everything she could to save Nickolas Lee from the rapid spread of coronavirus inside Cook County Jail.

She thought of the long stream of calls she had frantically dialed over the past few weeks as Cook County Jail rapidly cemented itself as the largest-known source of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Scrolling through her calls, the numbers ballooned from 60 to 70 to 90 to 100 to finally 132 calls made to the sheriff’s office, a jail sergeant’s desk line, the jail hospital and others to alert them to the spread of coronavirus on Lee’s tier—almost all were unanswered.

Lee was the third of seven detainees who have died after contracting the virus at Cook County Jail. Since then, almost 1,000 Cook County Jail employees and detainees have tested positive for COVID-19; two corrections officers and one court deputy have also died.

Like 98 percent of inmates at Cook County Jail, Lee was awaiting trial.

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THE LONG TERM

The Long Term is a hand-drawn animation developed by artists serving long term sentences.

The video uses personal narrative and research to describe the scale and impact of long term sentencing policies. The work tells the stories about the fear of dying inside, the feeling of being programmed by prison and the impact on family life, from the perspective of 11 artists serving life or long term sentences.

The Sentencing Project reports that 1 in 9 people in prison are serving life sentences, and 1 in 7 have sentences of fifty years or more.

People locked in, or headed to, maximum security prisons are marked for death-by-incarceration.

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THE BRUTALITY OF PRISON

Our prisons cannot continue to rely on deprivation, control and institutional violence to maintain order.

The failure to provide adequate treatment, programs and education is not justifiable, given the growth in prison spending in recent years as populations have declined — and given the high societal costs of recidivism.

We must re-align priorities in correctional budgets, and we must move forward with decarceration.

Prison distills all of our systemic injustices. People come there disproportionately from communities that are policed rather than resourced.

The incarcerated are housed in dismal cinder-block cells, deprived of adequate care, decent food and education, and paid pennies per hour, if they are lucky to even have a job.

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KIM FOXX TO DROP CHARGES FOR CURFEW VIOLATIONS

Step 1: Drop Erroneous Charges Against Protesters Of The George Floyd Uprising

Step 2: Apologize For Pushing Around Protesters With Impunity

Step 3: Decarcerate For The COVID-19 Prison Pandemic

Step 4: Get Behind Earned Discretionary Release

Step 5: Be Kind

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STATEVILLE VOICES: A Festival Of Short Plays

In the spring of 2019, through the Northwestern Prison Education Program, playwright and Goodman Artistic Associate, Rebecca Gilman, taught playwriting at the Stateville Correctional Center.

The students embraced their first playwriting class and, for their final projects, each wrote a short play. Ranging from comic to tragic, the plays tackle subjects as unique, original, and inspiring as the men who wrote them.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, we planned to offer three live performances of the Stateville Voices plays: one at the Goodman, one at Kennedy-King College and one at Stateville.

We still intend to present live readings at the Goodman and Kennedy-King once it is safe to do so. We also want to take the plays to Stateville when the prison is no longer on lockdown.

However, given that the population at Stateville has been one of the hardest hit by COVID19 in the country, we felt it was urgent to present a live virtual event featuring some of the Stateville Voices plays as well as a panel discussion looking at what life is like at Stateville at the present moment.

Live on Facebook and YouTube on Friday, July 3 at 5PM.

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FORGOTTEN PRISON PANDEMIC

In prison, having a cellmate you get along with is a rarity, but for Anthony Ehlers and James Scott, who have been cellmates for nearly five years at Stateville Correctional Center, they were one another’s family.

“He and I were a big odd couple to be best friends,” Ehlers, 48, wrote in a letter about Scott.

“Guys used to make fun of us. We didn’t care. I’m sure it was kind of weird, he was a short, bald, dark-skinned Black guy, and I am tall, and very white. But, we were inseparable.”

In March, when Ehlers felt body aches, a sore throat, dry cough and a loss of smell and taste, he worried he had been infected with COVID-19, and worse, that Scott would get sick too. He was right.

While Ehlers survived the virus, Scott did not.

Raul Dorado, 41, said when he first saw fellow prisoners exhibiting symptoms, the prison was not yet on lockdown.

“I noticed that many more than usual were sick,” wrote Dorado, who has been at Stateville since 2000. “Some said things like, I don’t know what the hell this is, but it’s kicking my ass!”

“I feel fragile, like a porcelain plate slipping out of a child’s hand,” wrote Dorado about his mental state. “Disposable, like a bent spork.”

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PRISON PANDEMIC: COVID-19 In Jails & Prisons

Roughly 120 fewer people were released from Illinois prisons between February and May 2020 than during the same four months last year, despite warnings from public health experts that lower prison populations are the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The report notes that only one Illinois prison—Vandalia Correctional Center—is at an occupancy level that allows people to maintain a safe distance.

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SHUT DOWN VIENNA

Activists and family members of people incarcerated in Vienna Correctional Center are calling on the Illinois Department of Public Health to shut down the minimum-security prison in southern Illinois.

The prison has been plagued by electrical issues, which caused intermittent power outages over several weeks in May, according to news reports.

Prison officials have relied on backup generators, which generate noxious fumes and are themselves unreliable.

The petition also claims the prison is infested with black mold and rodents in the dining halls and kitchen. These ongoing issues have made the facility dangerous, especially during a pandemic.

Activists have often called for the closure of prisons, including Stateville, Pontiac and Menard.

Vienna, which opened in November 1965, is often on the list.

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