Reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois prisons among staff and inmates by reducing the population will free up extremely limited health care resources in rural Illinois counties
Rural health care is limited
Rural counties in Illinois have far fewer ICU beds per capita than urban areas. Even a few cases can overwhelm rural hospitals.
Crowded prisons are unsafe for residents who work there
Illinois prisons are overcrowded. That makes essential social distancing and cleanliness to stop the spread among inmates impossible. With few resources in prison for masks, gloves and sanitizer, the likelihood of staff getting infected and spreading that infection back to the community is too high. Illinois needs emergency measures to reduce the risk of a spread in prisons.
The fastest way to reduce the risk of spread in prisons is to reduce the population.
Reducing the inmate population creates more physical distance among inmates and guards living in close proximity to each other. The more physical distance there is among inmates, the less likely COVID-19 will spread.
Illinois can legally reduce the current population of 38,000 to 32,000 before the spread hits
Current law allows the state to reduce the prison population administratively. There are 6000 inmates, 2400 of whom are elderly and thus more likely to get infected and become carriers, who were not convicted of the most serious crimes, who are scheduled to be released in the next two years. Releasing them in very short order to return to their homes and reduce density in prisons is the most responsible way to protect rural communities during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, this is happening in Joliet and Stateville prison.
To avoid this epidemic in every rural community with a prison, Illinois should this week release thousands of prisoners to their homes where they can be isolated — the 6,000 that are serving non-violent offenses and have less than two years to go in their sentence are an excellent start.