Inmates with Serious Medical Needs Remain Imprisoned at High Levels in Illinois
2022 Reform Has Limited Impact on Aging Population in Illinois Prisons
In 2022 Governor Pritzker signed the Joe Coleman Medical Release Act, which was a bill designed to allow the Prisoner Review Board to release inmates who have less than 18 months to live or need help with more than one important daily activity, such as eating or using the bathroom. While the bill was highlighted by Illinois democrats as both a cost cutting measure for Illinois taxpayers paying for advanced medical care and as a compassionate measure in uniting families, in effect the bill has not had the profound effect advocates say it should have on qualified individuals. A recent investigation showed that nearly two-thirds of inmates who satisfied the medical criteria and applied for release were denied by the Prisoner Review Board, including two inmates who died in prison after their denial. Many advocates and family members of those incarcerated feel the Board is undermining the goals of the legislature through their denials. As lead author of the Coleman Act and executive director of the Illinois Prison Project Jennifer Soble summarizes, “From a cost-saving perspective, from a government-efficiency perspective, and truly from a moral perspective, we need to be doing something differently here.”
Governor Pritzker Defends Actions of the Board
In response to the investigation of their actions, Governor Pritzker defended the actions of the Prisoner Review Board, members of which were appointed by the governor, stated that the bill is being implemented as it should. “I’ve encouraged the Prisoner Review Board to do the right thing, to encourage release wherever it’s appropriate.” Pritzker said. “But we’re not just going to push everybody out the door just because there’s somebody who complains that we haven’t done it the way they would like it done.” The governor cautioned the public that numbers don’t tell the full story and there are many dynamic factors at play in each individual case that make it difficult to judge the actions of the board. Nonetheless, individuals who meet the criteria should still seek their release and should consider hiring an attorney to assist them in presenting their case to the Prisoner Review Board in order to quell their fears and to set themselves up for a better chance at release.