CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- A day after the state announced one Illinois prison inmate had died of COVID-19 and that more inmates and staff had tested positive for the coronavirus, a legal services group is renewing its call for thousands of inmates to be released.Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said as many as 13,000 inmates should be released from state prisons, or in the very least, put on home confinement to try to control the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
"There’s simply not the opportunity to socially distance. It’s totally impossible to try to stay six feet away from somebody when you share a cell that’s 4 ½ by 10 feet with another human being," Mills said.
Mills said that if the state released thousands of inmates, it could use one prison solely to quarantine inmates who have the coronavirus. If the state does not act, Mills said the Uptown People’s Law Center will consider going to court.Mills said what his organization is asking for is allowed under Illinois law. He said the state should consider releasing those who are medically vulnerable, anyone medically furloughed, anybody with less than a year to serve on his or her sentence, is over 55 years old and has served at least a quarter of their sentence, any inmate convicted of a low-level felony, or anyone who has less than six months left on their sentence. The state announced Monday that one Stateville prison inmate had died of the coronavirus, and that another 12 inmates and 16 staffers at the prison had tested positive for COVID-19.Mills said depopulation of prisons is "crucial.""A man died, apparently of respiratory failure at Stateville. It appears he was sent there far too late after he had been coughing and very short of breath, running a fever for over a week at Stateville without anybody intervening," he said.Mills guesses that if the state does not act to reduce Stateville’s population, 1,000 inmates could have the virus in the next couple of weeks.Mills said reducing the prison populations, "doesn't mean every one of those should walk out the door, but there are, we believe, over 13,000 of those individuals who should be in the pool of people that they are aggressivley looking at and trying to move as many as possible out," Mills said.