COVID-19 numbers silently rise in McLean County Jail

Article written by BloNo DSA member, Zach G for his blog www.strangecornersofthought.com

It seems COVID-19 infection numbers in the McLean County Jail have risen since I last wrote about the Law & (In)justice Center. Since August, COVID-19 numbers remained flat at 5 inmates & 2 staff. Yet, on November 25th, at least two inmates tested positive bringing the total number to 7. Recent information requests indicate staff numbers have skyrocketed with 6 additional cases making a total of 8. I’m still inquiring on when exactly the staff members tested positive and whether there are any active cases in the jail.

For most of November, inmates were on a four-four schedule. This means they are allowed out of their cells into the pods (which hold nearly 50 people) for four hours to eat, exercise and what not, followed by four hours back in their cell before they are given another four hours out of their cells for dinner. However, this was rescinded at the end of November when they started getting positive tests again. Inmates are currently in solitary confinement 21-hours a day, and given only 3 hours outside of their cell. All new inmates to the jail are quarantined in solitary confinement for fourteen days in case they are infected with coronavirus.

However, you’d never know any of this info from what the jail is telling the public; because the jail isn’t telling the public anything. At the December 1st Justice Committee meeting, Sheriff Jon Sandage gave no indication of any new cases, despite getting at least two cases earlier in the week. At the November 31st Health Committee meeting, Suzanne Scott spoke on behalf of the jail medical department; when asked if she had anything to report she said, “No. Not particularly.” I couldn’t find any reporting of it in the local news during the week of the new tests, so the Health Department is omitting this information from their daily reports.

Finally, in November, Sheriff Sandage hired Sungard Window Fashions of Bloomington to cover all the jail windows with a Solyx SXWF-WM exterior frosted film. This (allegedly) allows light to enter the cell while preventing any inmates from seeing outside their jail cells. Sandage did this in response to multiple protests this year outside the jail. Protesters would shout messages of affirmation to the inmates, and inmates would hold signs in their windows about alleged acts of neglect in the jail. While the inmates can no longer see outside, inmates can still clearly hear any protests that may wish to occur there. No idea yet how much tax payer money Sandage wasted on this

All of this is made worse by our corrupt cash bail system where you literally have to pay a ransom to be free despite being innocent until proven guilty. While inmates were stuck in jail this holiday season, the four officers that murdered George Floyd are all free on bond. Kyle Rittenhouse, who allegedly murdered two protesters and injured a third during mass protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin had Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with his family surrounded by the armed security that was hired to protect him. Brett Hankison, the only officer charged in the incident that led to the murder of Breonna Taylor, is also free. Cash bail has nothing to do with public safety. Society is not safer because any of these people were able to pay their ransom before being freed pending trial. Illinois has a chance to end cash bail within the year with the introduction of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act. A number of local organizations are holding a virtual workshop to educate the community about the Pre-Trial Fairness Act and what steps we can take to get this bill passed.

Event: Virtual Town Hall: Discussion on Ending Money Bond
Date: January 16th, 2020
Time: 10 AM
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/131217402026127/
Registration link: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMrdO-orD8tEtZVjvyX2WqM0PcHSkofEwoz?fbclid=IwAR1UeZRM2pZJ_QTvUomh8bzzh9q55MUeYevoeBQ-_1ya3JNEPXS0S4JpbPM

Organizations: YWCA McLean County, DSA Bloomington-Normal, BLM BloNo, NAACP of Bloomington-Normal,

“Join YWCA McLean County and Bloomington Normal Chapter of NAACP, and leading area civil rights organizations for a virtual town hall that will inform our community on the progress being made to end wealth based pretrial detention known as “money bond” or “cash bail”.

In communities throughout Illinois, thousands upon thousands of people are stuck behind bars, not because they’ve been proven guilty of a crime, but because they cannot afford their money bond. The immense harm caused by removing someone from their family, career, and community, simply because they do not have the financial means to afford their freedom, damages the individual and those who depend on their care, along with the social fabric that we all share, and their chances of a fair judicial process. That’s why over 100 organizations across the state, including YWCA McLean County have signed on in support of the Pretrial Fairness Act.”