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Aggressive. Experienced.

Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
Former Cook County Felony Prosecutor

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Illinois Prisoners Have Rights — Are They Being Violated?

Regardless of how a person winds up in prison, all prisoners’ rights are the same. This is true even during the current pandemic or any other natural disaster for that matter.

One of those rights is personal safety. To help protect that right and to prevent further COVID-19 infections in the state prison system, certain inmates are being released early.

The concerted effort, however, has since given way to public questions about precisely who has been released and whether or not potential violent offenders are among them which may have slowed the release process.

Illinois’ Early-Release Efforts Increased

Illinois, like many other states, created a program to release certain prisoners to help ease overcrowding in the state’s already full prison system. This was especially important because of the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep the virus from spreading through and decimating the vulnerable population.

In the meantime, conditions inside seem to have taken a turn for the worse, and issues with public concerns have left many non-violent offenders stuck in poor conditions.

Some of them are saying their rights are being violated. If you or your loved one is currently incarcerated, and slated for early release, it is imperative you know what prisoners’ rights are to ensure they aren’t being violated.

Eligibility for Early Release in Illinois

Part of the rights violations issue stems from a lack of clarity on who exactly is getting released. The early-release rulebook in Illinois seems to be in constant flux over who qualifies for these releases right now. According to the news channel ABC7, the rules for this release are “changing every day.”

What we do know is there will only be a certain percentage of prison populations that will be released, and that there are several categories of prisoners who should qualify first. They include:

  • Non-violent offenders who were nearing the end of their sentence
  • People currently at the end of their sentence waiting to be released
  • Non-violent offenders who had reduced time for good behavior
  • Non-violent offenders already sick from the COVID-19 virus

There are suspected to be over 4,000 people who have been released since lockdowns went into effect around the state. Yet records aren’t clearly reflecting whose release was on a normal timeline and whose were due to coronavirus mitigation efforts.

Eligibility for Early Release in Illinois

Eligibility for Early Release in Illinois

The confusion is what has caused public concern. The public concern has slowed early release processing. So what are prisoners’ rights and which ones may be violated by the current situation?

Illinois State Prisoner’s Rights

Besides those who are waiting for early release, there are thousands more who are bound to stay in the Illinois state prison system. For these inmates, the fear of the virus is genuine. Stories continue to surface about horrendous conditions in some of the state’s largest facilities.

These allegations fly in the face of prisoners’ rights. Based on claims in the media, some of the many rights that prisoners in the state of Illinois that may be at risk are:

  • The right to humane facilities and conditions
  • The right to be free from racial segregation
  • The right to express condition complaints
  • The right to assert their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The right to medical care and attention as needed

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous complaints of violations of more than one of these rights. Inmates have noted the lack of proper conditions and little to no medical care.

They’ve claimed a lack of proper safety equipment while guards seem to have what they need — masks, gloves, etc. Some prisoners say they don’t have cleaning supplies to maintain sterile conditions in their cells.

Many have noted that infected prisoners are being housed in the same areas as non-infected inmates. This has caused the further spread of the virus among inmates who did not qualify for early release.

What to Do to Ensure Protection of Prisoners’ Rights

Keeping communication lines open between loved ones inside and outside the prison is imperative. The person inside needs to know what to look for and when their rights are being violated. Recording accurately the conditions and complaints outside will be instrumental in a claim if you wind up needing to file one.

And if under any circumstance your line of communication goes dark?

Call an attorney.

How Can an Illinois Defense Attorney Help with Prisoners’ Rights?

How Can an Illinois Defense Attorney Help with Prisoners’ Rights?

As outlined, every prisoner has the right to voice their concerns about conditions. They also have the right to see those concerns addressed — corrected. That said, often inmates find their voices silenced or falling on deaf ears. An experienced Illinois defense attorney can serve as your megaphone.

They know what steps to take in order to make the right people listen. Some ways an attorney can help are by directing complaints to the correct places and providing proper defense. In some situations, a defense attorney may even be able to secure release when the specific violations have been particularly egregious.


About the Author:

Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes. His work has been recognized by Avvo, Expertise, National Trial Lawyers, and others, and he has been featured on countless news outlets for his experience and knowledge in criminal law.

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