A procession of about 40 cars made its way around the Stateville Correctional Center on Friday in Crest Hill to protest how Illinois has handled the novel coronavirus pandemic in prisons.
The demonstrators displayed signs from their cars reading “Free them all” and “Empty the jails.”
Parole Illinois, a coalition of activists in and out of prison working “toward a more just and humane legal system” organized the demonstration. The group described Stateville as the “epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Illinois carceral system.”
The Rev. Jason Lydon, a Unitarian Universalist minister at the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago, described the group of family members, advocates and faith leaders as “people of conscience coming together” to raise awareness of the situation in Illinois prisons and jails. He said the demonstration was an effort to “remind everybody that those inside the prison are not alone.”
“We are fighting hard to get them out,” Lydon said. “And to ensure that they have the care that they need.”
Among the demonstrators was Christina Borizov, whose son, Johnny, is incarcerated at Stateville. She said despite her son being an exemplary inmate, his being locked up is a “death sentence” because of the outbreak there and his underlying health conditions.
“No one deserves to die,” she said.
There are 133 incarcerated individuals who have tested positive for the coronavirus in Stateville, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said. Of those individuals, 115 have recovered, seven still are recovering in isolation at the prison, and 11 have died, Hess said.
She added that the situation at Stateville has improved over the past few weeks, especially thanks in part to help from about 30 members of the Illinois National Guard providing medical assistance.
About 200 Stateville inmates have been released since the beginning of the pandemic, according to IDOC data, due in large part to the state prioritizing measures such as an earned sentence credit, which could reduce an offender’s sentence if they meet certain criteria.
Hess added it was unclear why such an outbreak occurred at Stateville but the IDOC plans to review the situation.
“We can’t say for sure,” Hess said.
Still, Lydon said the demonstrators feel the state hasn’t done enough to release inmates and keep the ones locked up safe.
“There is not a safe number of people inside our prisons,” Lydon said. “They don’t have the capacity to meet the need of people who are locked up.”