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Money v. Pritzker

United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

April 10, 2020, Decided; April 10, 2020, Filed

Case No. 20-cv-2093; Case No. 20-cv-2094

Opinion

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER1

In these two cases, Plaintiffs have raised issues [*3]  of great importance concerning the safety and well-being of inmates in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections during the current national crisis occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. As myriad citations in both sides' briefs confirm, this issue has occupied all three branches of government in both the federal and state governments in recent weeks. News reports are replete with actions taken by Governors, Attorneys General, state Supreme Courts, and individual trial judges to accelerate the release of inmates and detainees where consistent with overall public safety and to protect those who remain in custodial settings. And rightly so, for the stakes are incredibly high for Plaintiffs, their families, and the public at large. As emphasized by the medical experts whose appearances at daily press briefings rivet the nation, nobody is immune from this virus. However, due to the way in which the virus spreads, individuals living in congregate settings—such as nursing homes and prisons—are especially vulnerable because of difficulty of observing social distancing and recommended hygiene practices in close quarters.

At the outset, it is worth mentioning that Plaintiffs do not [*4]  ask this Court to order the Illinois Department of Corrections to improve the conditions of confinement. That is, Plaintiffs do not ask to improve the cleanliness of the prisons, or increase the amount of space between inmates at each facility, and so on. Instead, Plaintiffs ask this Court to force the state executive branch to start a process for the potential release of thousands of inmates, through medical furlough or home detention under state law, and do so within one week. The scope of the potential release is sweeping. By their own admission, Plaintiffs want a process to potentially release at least 12,000 inmates, almost one-third of the prison population in Illinois. Defendants submit that they have a process and already are doing most of what Plaintiffs are requesting in their proposed remedial plan—albeit not at the pace Plaintiffs would like to see.

The immediate question before the Court is whether Plaintiffs are entitled to some form of immediate relief—in the form of a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, or writs of habeas corpus—imposed by a federal court on state officials. For several reasons explained below, the Court answers that question in the [*5]  negative and denies the requested relief. Plaintiffs are correct in asserting that the issue of inmate health and safety is deserving of the highest degree of attention. And the record here shows that the authorities in this state are doing just that, with constantly evolving procedures increasing the number of inmates released on a daily basis. But the release of inmates requires a process that gives close attention to detail, for the safety of each inmate, his or her family, and the community at large demands a sensible and individualized release plan—especially during a pandemic. Even if the steps Illinois has taken and the pace with which they are proceeding is not exactly what Plaintiffs want, those steps and that pace plainly pass constitutional muster. Plaintiffs have provided no convincing reason for a federal court to intrude here and now—either to issue a blanket order for the release of thousands of inmates or to superimpose a court-mandated and court-superintended process on the mechanisms currently in place to determine which IDOC inmates can and should be safely removed from prison facilities at this time.

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2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63599 *

JAMES MONEY, et al., Plaintiffs, v. J.B. PRITZKER, et al., Defendants.JAMES MONEY, et al., Petitioners, v. ROB JEFFREYS, in his official capacity as DIRECTOR OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

CORE TERMS

inmates, prison, subclasses, custody, furlough, cases, three-judge, conditions, prison population, distancing, facilities, home detention, vulnerable, virus, preliminary injunction, federal court, spread, disabilities, congregate, courts, merits, state court, confinement, injunction, pandemic, habeas corpus, violations, crowding, sentence, housed