Senate discusses pandemic protocol in Illinois prisons
12/21/2020, 6 p.m.
Testifying before the Senate State Government Committee recently, Illinois Dept. of Corrections Director Rob Jeffreys said the state’s prison system is working closely with state public health authorities to respond to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Senator Pat McGuire, Vice-Chair of the committee, led the hearing and asked IDOC personnel about the department’s progress in processing prisoners for intake and release more efficiently, COVID-19 protocols, and efforts to adapt the prison system’s education programs to the realities of the pandemic.
“We learned at the hearing of steps DOC has taken to spend tax dollars more wisely, to ensure educational programs continue in our prisons during the pandemic, and to protect staff and incarcerated men and women from COVID-19,” McGuire said. “However, much remains to be done. Legislators of both parties pledged to work with DOC on the vital work which lies before us.”
IDOC is also partnering with local community colleges to set up distance learning programs for inmates, said Alyssa Williams, Chief of Programs and Services.
State Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago) asked how inmates are being directed to follow health and safety guidelines. Jeffreys said inmates are issued masks, hand sanitizer, and directed to frequently wash their hands.
"We have had a difficult year, but it has been particularly hard for folks in congregate settings like our state prisons," Peters said, following his participation in the hearing. "Incarcerated people deserve the ability to see their families, which is why we need quick turnaround for time served. They deserve the right to learn, grow, and be challenged mentally, which is why we need to keep up IDOC education programs, and they deserve a healthy and safe living
environment, which is why we need to need to limit lockdowns and increase fresh air time, especially during a pandemic."
Jeffreys said select personnel within the prison system will be classified as among the highest priority recipients of the COVID-19 vaccines now rolling out across the globe. He added that he regards the ongoing pandemic as one prolonged wave of infection and that it has been an ongoing challenge at the state’s facilities.
“We’ve been at this 284 days and have had peaks and valleys the whole time,” Jeffreys said. “It has been a tremendous help to have the population reduced, to have the ability to put people in certain areas for quarantine and certain medical protocols.”