Pekin community members say federal prison system isn’t taking COVID-19 seriously

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PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — A call for action as protesters gathered in Pekin Saturday to protest the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), saying it’s not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in facilities.

Community members with loved ones in the prison system believe the BOP is failing to protect inmates from the coronavirus and are asking leaders to release eligible inmates to home confinement.

A COVID-19 outbreak within the walls of federal prisons, including Pekin’s lead to dozens gathering Saturday, demanding inmate get proper medical care, nutrition and hygiene needed to keep safe from the virus. Jenny Lee has a son in the system and said she fears her son’s upcoming birthday could be his last.

“I pray everyday that being in the BOP and COVID, that’s not his last birthday,” Lee said.

Lee said her son who is originally from the area, is now based at a federal prison in Minnesota. She said according to her son, the guards aren’t wearing masks and inmates lack access to clean personal protective equipment.

“If people (inmates) aren’t doing exactly what they’re wanting them to do, or if they are making special requests for their safety, they throw them in the SHU, Special Housing Unit as a disciplinary action,” Lee said.

According to the group, most facilities within the BOP are overcrowded and are unable to let inmates social distance safely. Chloe, said her grandfather has pre-existing conditions and is at-risk because of it.

“They’re not able to hold that many people so now with too many people, there’s higher risk of all them getting sick,” Chloe said.

To address these concerns the federal government passed the CARES act, which under the direction of Attorney General William Barr requires all BOP facilities to release eligible prisoners who may be at serious risk of getting the virus. Lee said she’s monitored the numbers and have yet to see them go down.

“The releases have not increased any, so they’re not letting people out because of the COVID,” Lee said.

The group also says the BOP’s website is not keeping up to date information, saying the 66 confirmed cases within the Pekin prison is a false number. They believe that number is well over 100.

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