Fulton County Board Chairman accuses Department of Corrections of breaking promise


FULTON COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD) — Fulton County Board Chairman Patrick O’Brian said the Illinois Department of Corrections is not holding up its promise to five correctional officers.

In a letter sent Monday, O’Brian said two weeks ago, when the COVID-19 outbreak at Statesville Prison in Crest Hill was reported, state leaders asked for the help of other correctional institutions to staff the prison.

O’Brian said five officers from the Illinois River Correctional Center volunteered for the shifts. However, he said as part of the deal, the officers would be tested after their rotation and placed in a 14-day paid quarantine. O’Brian said that promise was broken by the Department of Corrections.

“It has been brought to our attention that this promise has been broken. These correctional officers are set to end their voluntary rotation this Tuesday, April 21st. Following this, they will be released back to their respective communities and workplaces; 1 in the City of Peoria, 1 in the City of Pekin, and 3 in Fulton County.”

Patrick O’Brian Fulton County Board Chairman

O’Brian said Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office supports the Department of Corrections decision not to test or pay the employees. He said State Senator Dave Koehler (D – Peoria) and State Representative Mike Unes (R – East Peoria) are negotiating with Governor’s office to ensure promises are kept.

“This should be a priority, as a precaution, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and prisons and to protect the safety of our essential, front line employees. The State must provide this service. To directly refuse these employees’ testing is a dereliction of duty.”

Patrick O’Brian Fulton County Board Chairman

State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) says him and State Rep. Mike Unes (R-91 district) spoke with Gov. J.B. Pritzker late Monday night to bring this issue to light.

“Just explained to them that they needed to have special care. This is a situation where these individuals are returning to their families, to their communities, to their workplaces,” Koehler said.

Rep. Unes sent a statement to WMBD that this is a serious station he believes must be fixed.

“We have officers who willingly went into a dangerous situation with a known COVID-19 outbreak. We are simply asking that, before returning to another highly vulnerable situation, that the proper precautions be taken to ensure they are not COVID positive,” Unes said.

Pekin Mayor Mark Luft agreed, saying he wants to ensure safety for the people of Pekin.

“It was a concern, especially since I had somebody coming back here to Pekin, where we’ve worked really hard to contain, and followed the mandates, to do what we need to do to get through this,” Luft said.

“This is consistent with what Gov. Pritzker has suggested since day one and is consistent with what would be required at a long-term care facility or any other vulnerable facility after workers return from an area with a known outbreak,” Unes added.

“We have to care and take caution, especially when people have been exposed to others who have had COVID-19. That’s our message and we’re waiting for a response back,” Sen. Koehler said.

Sen. Koehler says it is currently unsure if any policy will be created, but he says he expects to see one soon.

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