Downtown prison locked down amid flu

February 14, 2011 5:25:51 PM PST
An emergency lockdown is underway at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in downtown Chicago.

It is having a ripple effect at the federal courthouse, with many criminal cases canceled.

The MCC has been on lockdown since last Thursday. Usually when you hear about a jailhouse lockdown, it is the result of a disturbance or a missing weapon. In this case though, the emergency that caused the MCC lockdown is far less exotic.

It is a flu bug that has swept through the MCC, infecting enough of the 721 inmates currently housed there that prison officials required the lockdown.

The unusual order confines prisoners to their cells; it has suspended all inmate visits to day rooms, and all family visits have been stopped. The MCC library is closed until further notice.

More importantly, the lockdown means that attorneys cannot visit with their clients for case preparation.

Since Thursday, criminal transfers have been suspended to the Dirksen Federal Building for court appearances.

A spokesman for the clerk's office says that cases are being delayed because of the MCC lockdown.

At the MCC, authorities have not released the number of prisoners being treated for flu symptoms, and they say that a small percentage of the general population prompted the lockdown.

Who pays for the treatment? According to the inmate handbook, there is prisoner health insurance, which has a generous co-pay program.

Inmates pay just $2 for each visit to the prison clinic.

One defense attorney tells the I-Team that the lockdown is "day-to-day". A court official says they have been informed that it will continue through Tuesday, which would mean almost four full days of disrupted court cases.

While a flu lockdown is unusual for the MCC, according to a spokesman there, several similar emergency orders have been put in place recently at jails across the country, including one in Nebraska, where it was feared an inmate had meningitis.

In those cases of serious, highly communicable diseases, prisoners have been known to use their illness as a weapon against guards.