Shared Humanity, Not Fear, Should Guide Illinois on Release of Incarcerated People

Now more than ever, we must remember our shared humanity and protect all people, including the incarcerated.

Now more than ever, we must remember our shared humanity and protect all people, including the incarcerated. 

At least 5 incarcerated people in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) have died since the COVID-19 pandemic began and over one-hundred more have been infected. They are parents, aunts, uncles, spouses, siblings and partners; their lives matter and they are, as we all are, deserving of love and compassion. The only way to avoid more deaths and infections and preserve our public health system – especially in rural counties where many prisons are located and that lack hospitals with the necessary capacity to respond to the pandemic – is to release more people from our crowded prison facilities, similar to states like California and Oklahoma.

Prior to COVID-19, almost 40,000 people were incarcerated in IDOC facilities, facilities where social distancing and full compliance with CDC guidelines is impossible. This reality not only endangers incarcerated people, but every person that enters a prison facility. This includes prison guards, maintenance staff, administrators, health care providers, and others.

Safely releasing people who have served their prison sentence, who have more than paid their proverbial debt to society, is exactly what Governor Pritzker is supposed to do in order to act in the best interest of Illinoisans – which includes incarcerated people.  It is sad, but not surprising, to see the police union and some elected officials use this unprecedented time to lean into racist tropes and public scare tactics. The truth is, research shows that people who have been incarcerated for decades have the lowest risk of reoffending and pose almost no threat to public safety. So to advance claims contrary to the evidence, that the State’s action put the public at risk, is unfounded and is worn out politically expedient rhetoric that none of us should accept or allow to continue. We are so much better than this.

To get through this public health crisis together, in furtherance of all communities, Illinois must remain committed to supporting and protecting every person in our criminal legal system.

About the Author

John Bouman
John Bouman
John Bouman
President

312.368.2671

Patrice James
Patrice James
Patrice James
Director of Community Justice

312.368.2001

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