Illinois prisoners suffer from COVID-19 conditions, BGA investigation finds

CHICAGO (WLS) -- COVID-19 in prisons has been a major national issue since the pandemic started, but after many non-violent incarcerated people were released and the vaccines were rolled out, many of the problems declined.

A Better Government Association investigation found that staffing is a big contributor to the problem.

Fewer than 160 incarcerated people and staffers were infected with COVID-19 throughout Illinois as recently as early December. But by mid-January, 3,300 incarcerated people and nearly 1,100 staff members at Illinois prisons were infected, even though hospitalizations have been rare during the latest wave.

John Chase with the BGA said "slow rollout of prison staff getting vaccinated still has many who have not been boosted." Staffing for nurses, doctors and even guards is less than needed. The vacancy rate for registered nurse positions more than tripled to 29% in 2020, up from 9% in 2019. The corrections department estimated it would have to hire 2,000 more correctional officers on top of the 6,000 currently on staff statewide.

For the fiscal year that ended in June, overtime expenses in the state prison system shot up to $95.6 million, a 17% jump from the previous year.

The BGA said COVID-19 issues highlight a long-standing problem within the Illinois prison system.
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