Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Joliet called for “solidarity and compassion” for those incarcerated in Illinois prisons and jails during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pates said in a statement that having a “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable” are “the foundations of our Catholic social teaching.”
“Today, our imprisoned population find themselves extremely vulnerable to COVID-19,” Pates said in the statement. “Jesus who himself was a prisoner, exemplified the greatest mercy for humanity by dying on the cross. It’s from Christ’s mercy for us that we practice mercy and compassion for people who are imprisoned.”
Pates also said that measures should continue to be taken to slow the spread of the virus in prisons. He said the Illinois Department of Corrections should continue to prioritize early releases, especially for elderly and medically vulnerable individuals, and that all inmates and staff should be tested.
The bishop himself has had to take action, including suspending Mass to slow the spread.
Other faith leaders and activists have called for state officials to do more to release inmates. The organization Parole Illinois recently held a funeral procession-like demonstration outside of Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, which they called the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in prisons.
Stateville saw a large outbreak of the disease earlier this year.
As of Tuesday, IDOC reported that 178 inmates and 76 staff members at Stateville had tested positive. While the vast majority of them had recovered, 12 inmates in Stateville died from the disease, IDOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said.
Pates also said IDOC should completely and publicly report COVID-19 data from prisons so that family members and advocates can support inmates appropriately.
“It’s crucial that we protect those persons who are incarcerated because though they are imprisoned, they should never be forgotten,” Pates said in his statement.