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Class Action Seeks Swift Release of Most Vulnerable to COVID-19 in Illinois Prisons

Equip for Equality Joins Coalition to Protect People with Disabilities from Coronavirus Pandemic

CHICAGO (April 2, 2020) – Today, Equip for Equality, in coalition with leading Illinois civil rights attorneys, filed a federal class action lawsuit against Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) seeking, among other things, the swift release of prisoners who are most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. The lawsuit, Money v. Pritzker, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. The lawsuit was filed after the State failed to adequately respond to a letter from advocates urging the Governor to immediately reduce the prison population, including conducting a systematic review and release of those who are at most risk during the pandemic. Legal claims in the case are violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 8th Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment) and the 14th Amendment (due process). The class is represented by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, the Community Justice Civil Rights Clinic at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Illinois Prison Project, Uptown People’s Law Center, Loevy and Loevy, and Equip for Equality.

Without urgent action by the IDOC to drastically reduce Illinois’ prison population, the novel coronavirus is likely to spread not just inside the walls of Illinois’s 28 prisons, but throughout prison communities as well.  Nearly 37,000 people are incarcerated in Illinois, living in close quarters where all aspects of daily life, including healthcare and food service, take place.  Many prisoners have disabilities or health conditions that put them at greater risk of illness and/or death caused by COVID-19.  As with other congregate settings like nursing facilities, long-term care facilities and institutions, social distancing guidelines can never be fully or effectively implemented in prison.  And each day, thousands of staff must come and go from prison facilities, potentially carrying with them the coronavirus for days, even weeks, without ever showing symptoms.  These settings pose a particular risk of spreading the virus, with catastrophic consequences not just to the prisoners and staff, but also to their communities and the hospitals that serve them. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Stateville Prison in Joliet, Illinois demonstrates that this is a true crisis that needs immediate and effective public health intervention.

“As an organization dedicated to the human and civil rights of people with disabilities, Equip for Equality is committed to ensuring that prisoners with disabilities are are not left behind in this time of crisis,” said Amanda Antholt, Senior Attorney at Equip for Equality. “It is clear that people with underlying health conditions of any age are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and are at risk of serious harm, including death, if they remain in a congregate setting. Medical experts have concluded that prioritizing the most medically vulnerable individuals for release is an essential part of a successful risk mitigation strategy.”

Among the named Plaintiffs is longtime Equip for Equality client, William Richard, who is only a few months away from his schedule release from Dixon Correctional Center. At 66 years-old, and with a heart conditions and chronic respiratory disease, William is at high risk of complications if he contracts the virus. William lives in a small 12 x 7 cell with three other prisoners in the facility’s health care unit. He shares a shower and has contact with staff throughout the day, making it impossible to take social distancing measures. Equip for Equality implores the Governor and the IDOC to take urgent measures to allow William and others in his position to be released to his awaiting home so that he can safely quarantine with his family.

The class is divided into six sub-classes. One sub-class focuses exclusively on prisoners with disabilities and is defined as: “People in custody who have serious underlying medical conditions that put them at particular risk of serious harm or death from COVID-19, including but not limited to people with respiratory conditions including chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma; people with heart disease or other heart conditions; people who are immune-compromised as a result of cancer, HIV/AIDS, or any other condition or related to treatment for a medical condition; people with chronic liver or kidney disease or renal failure (including hepatitis and dialysis patients); people with diabetes, epilepsy, hypertension, blood disorders (including sickle cell disease), inherited metabolic disorders; people who have had or are at risk of stroke; and people with any other condition specifically identified by CDC either now or in the future as being a particular risk for severe illness and/or death caused by COVID-19, and who are eligible for medical furlough pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/3-11-1.” All these conditions are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For more information on the case, please contact Equip for Equality Senior Attorney Amanda Antholt at 312-895-7330 or amanda@equipforequality.org. A copy of the Complaint can be found at: COVID_Prisoner_Release_Complaint

Reference:  U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois

Case No. 1:20-cv-02093

Money et al v. Pritzker et al

Last updated: April 10, 2020

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