SPRINGFIELD — Visitors are temporarily banned from Illinois prisons “to prevent the potential for COVID-19 exposure,” the state Department of Corrections announced Friday.
There are no identified cases of the novel coronavirus in DOC facilities, according to a notice posted on the department’s website, and the restriction is effective March 14 “until further notice.”
“We recognize the importance of visitation as an essential component of rehabilitation, family connection and quality of life for those in our care,” according to a DOC statement. “Our top priority is the health and safety of those who live and work in our facilities, and we are hopeful this policy change will be short-lived.”
Phone calls and video visits will be “expanded,” allowing for two 20-minute telephone calls and one 15-minute video meeting. It is unclear if those allowances will be per visit or just per prisoner. The department also recommended loved ones and visitors write letters.
Attorneys, who are still permitted to meet with their clients in department-run facilities, will be screened before they are allowed inside. Similarly, medical personnel will examine parole violators and new inmates.
The corrections department will provide staff with cleaning supplies, soap and hand sanitizer.
Illinois Newsroom reported Friday a department spokesperson said inmates are quarantined in 10 state prisons due to influenza, including 55 men at the Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois. That spokesperson also said Department of Corrections officials are not testing those in their care for COVID-19.
Supreme Court goes digital
The Illinois Supreme Court will livestream oral arguments scheduled on March 17 and 18, according to a news release Friday, “consistent with the CDC’s directives to avoid large gatherings and practice ‘social distancing.’”
The state’s highest court encouraged other courts around the state to postpone case hearings and jury trials, for instance, or use teleconferences in a manner by which members of the public can still monitor proceedings.
“While keeping the courts available to the fullest extent, all proceedings must be consistent with public safety as well as any further policy directives from the Supreme Court and the local chief judge, as well as federal, state, and local public health advisories,” according to the memo.
Local court information about the novel coronavirus’s impact on facilities is posted to the Illinois Supreme Court’s website, www.illinoiscourts.gov.
In a note to judges across the state, the justices and chief justice wrote to “please employ a balanced and objective approach that considers both the uninterrupted administration of justice and the health and well-being of the judicial branch and its court patrons.”
Governor’s Mansion closed
Tours and events at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield were canceled, effective immediately, by the nonprofit board tasked with overseeing building in an announcement Friday.
Public surfaces in the mansion will be sanitized more frequently, and hand sanitizing stations were installed throughout communal areas.
“Governor (JB) Pritzker and the first lady take great pride in welcoming Illinoisans, and guests from near and far, to the people’s house,” Marilyn Cagnoni, a member of the Illinois Governor’s Mansion Association, said in a statement. “However, the safety, health, and well-being of visitors are their highest priorities, and we must all be proactive in taking measures to protect all visitors and staff of the Governor’s Mansion.”
Mental health services protections urged
An advocacy group urged Pritzker’s administration on Friday to ensure the novel coronavirus outbreak does not cause “any disruption to essential services” for Illinoisans receiving behavioral health care services.
Marvin Lindsey, CEO of Illinois’ Community Behavioral Healthcare Association, said during the state of emergency, restrictions on services should be eased.
“As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, we believe that now is the time for the Pritzker administration to develop a preparedness plan that will help to prevent any disruption to the essential services that have stabilized and improved the lives of individuals with chronic behavioral health conditions,” he said in an emailed statement.
A federal funding bill for coronavirus costs included a provision allaying constraints on telehealth services, among others. Lindsey said such measures should be extended to Illinoisans who need mental health risk assessments, medication training and daily prescriptions.
He also said certain Medicaid requirements should be waived.
According to the association, the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services did not respond to a letter sent Tuesday asking for these considerations.