Prisoner rights advocates blast state’s COVID-19 rate in jails

Thousands of Illinois inmates and jail employees have become sickened with COVID-19, an increase u in recent months that has alarmed prisoner rights advocates.

At least 59 inmates have died from COVID-19 and nearly 10,000 inmates and staff members have become infected, according to The Chicago Tribune. Most infections are recent. From March to early August, there were fewer than 700 known infections.

"This is absolutely a failure by the state," said Jennifer Soble, head of the Illinois Prison Project. "There is no question that COVID was going to make it into the prisons. The tragedy is the number of people who have become sick and died. That tragedy was preventable."

Department of Corrections officials acknowledged the increase. Agency Director Rob Jeffreys said at a recent Senate committee hearing that more testing is partly the reason and the rise follows state and national trends.

Illinois began regularly testing prison employees earlier this month, a practice expected to be in place statewide next month.

Illinois expects about 234,000 doses of both vaccines this week, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office. Medical workers and nursing home residents have priority.

The state has reported roughly 906,000 COVID-19 cases including about 15,300 deaths, according to the Department of Public Health.