Criminal Justice

Federal judge orders COVID-19 safety measures for Chicago-area inmates; a second detainee dies

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A federal judge in Chicago has ordered the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, to take measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the county jail, where there is a high rate of infections that led to two inmate deaths.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled Thursday, the same day that a second jail inmate died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, reported the Chicago Tribune in a story on the death.

The COVID-19 infection rate at the jail is 50 per 1,000 people, the highest rate in the country, Kennelly said in his decision.

The Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and CBS News covered the ruling.

So far, 251 detainees and 150 staff members at the Cook County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Under the circumstances, plaintiffs are reasonably likely to succeed on their contention that conditions at the Jail create an unreasonable risk to their health that is sufficiently serious to bring their due process rights into play,” Kennelly wrote.

Kennelly did not require the release of any jail inmates, but he ordered these measures, with varying due dates for implementation:

• Provide prompt COVID-19 testing for detainees who show symptoms of the virus and for inmates exposed to infected people.

• Provide soap or hand sanitizer to detainees in sufficient quantities.

• Provide supplies to staff and inmates to sanitize surfaces.

• Provide face masks to quarantined detainees.

• Enforce social distancing and eliminate the use of bullpens during the intake process for new inmates.

Kennelly ruled in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Cook County inmates last week by the Loevy and Loevy law firm and the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University.

The second detainee who apparently died from a COVID-19 infection was 51-year-old Leslie Pieroni, a convicted sex offender. The other inmate, 59-year-old Jeffery Pendleton, died Sunday. He was in jail on charges that included armed habitual criminal and armed violence.

The sheriff’s office released a statement criticizing the lawsuit as “headline-seeking” and “an unnecessary and costly distraction.”

“Unfortunately, all of this could have been accomplished without this unnecessary legal drama if the plaintiffs’ attorneys had accepted our invitation to work with us, rather than against us,” the statement read.

“We appreciate that the judge acknowledged the many unique and aggressive efforts that the office has undertaken to identify and help those who catch the virus and to limit its spread. Much of what the court is requiring today has been well underway for weeks and even months in some cases.”

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