Sex offenders who have completed their sentences but are still being held in Illinois prisons should be released as part of the effort to reduce the state’s prison population during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
The request for a temporary restraining order was filed on behalf of Marcus Barnes, a sex offender held at Graham Correctional Center, and about 300 other sex offenders who remain in prison because they have not located state-approved housing required for their release.
In their motion in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, lawyers Adele Nicholas and Mark Weinberg argue that the global pandemic poses “an acute risk to the health and safety of imprisoned persons.”
In Barnes’ case, his 12-year term for criminal sexual assault was completed in December 2018. Since then, the Department of Corrections has rejected 11 different proposed “host sites” for his living arrangements. Most recently, the 42-year old was denied a home because another registered sex offender lives at the same address in Chicago.
The apartment Barnes hoped to move into in February is owned by Jordan’s Dream, an organization which helps with transitional housing for sex offenders. The building is a two-story apartment site.
The residency requirements for sex offenders are part of a permanent injunction issued last year by a federal judge in a lawsuit. The state was ordered to release the sex offenders held on housing rules described by the judge as a “statutory and regulatory scheme” that violate inmates’ constitutional rights. Several policy changes proposed by IDOC are a step towards the January 2021 deadline for compliance with the federal order, the lawsuit notes.
Barnes’ lawsuit follows the positive coronavirus diagnosis April 5 of a Graham staff member.
So far, more than 60 inmates and 40 IDOC staff have tested positive for the virus.
Advocates for inmates contend the 37,000 prisoners in the state’s 28 prisons are in imminent danger of infection. Earlier this week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker extended medical furloughs for “medically vulnerable” inmates.
Other federal lawsuits seek the release of low-level, elderly and medically fragile inmates. As many as 13,000 prisoners fall into those categories, according to advocates.
IDOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess declined to comment on Barnes’ lawsuit, citing the pending nature of the litigation. The department has released 550 inmates so far during the virus outbreak, said Hess.
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