Two men currently detained at the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) are asking a federal court to force the Federal Bureau of Prisons to take immediate steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the facility. Ricky Price and Kevin Conway are among the more than 500 persons detained at the MCC, a facility designed for only 400 detainees. It is clear that this overcrowding, which has caused double-bunking in small cells and the housing of up to 100 persons in dormitory-like facilities, has facilitated the spread of COVID-19.
The MCC has been a vector for spread of the coronavirus since last spring. In May 2020, 20 to 25% of the population was diagnosed with an infection, despite a lack of testing throughout the facility. The same happened again once winter hit. Even now, management has stuck with its old, failed practices--officers walk the halls without wearing masks; basic needs such as soap and hand sanitizer are not widely available; and showers and other commonly used objects, like phones, are not cleaned and sanitized regularly.
“It is hard to define what MCC officials are doing as a strategy for confronting COVID,” said Camille Bennett, director of the Prison Reform Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “They failed in the spring and they have not learned a single lesson. There must be a specific, science-based plan to protect those detained at the MCC.”
Residents, including the two men bringing the lawsuit, report being terrified and depressed. They have good reason. The BOP COVID-19 page recently reported 307 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the MCC since the start of the pandemic. Reportedly some staff and a few residents were recently offered vaccinations, but most remain unprotected and unsafe. Given the reality that many of the residents at MCC have pre-existing conditions that make them susceptible to serious illness or death if they contract the coronavirus, it is urgent to make changes to the MCC practices.
“After months of inaction, it is clear that the court must order substantial changes at MCC, or people will die,” added Bennett.
The two plaintiffs are asking the court to order development of a vaccination plan at the MCC which results in all MCC residents and staff being vaccinated as soon as possible, along with vaccine education; adoption of an aggressive testing regimen in the facility, so that staff and all new and existing residents are tested on a regular basis; properly implemented isolation of COVID-positive residents; effective sanitation; universal masking inside the facility, and measures to relieve the depression of residents who have spent months under lockdown.