Fulton County Board Chairman Patrick O'Brian said the Illinois Department of Corrections is sending back five local correctional officers who volunteered to help out at a COVID-19 stricken prison without the testing or paid quarantine that was reportedly promised them.
O'Brian said the five Illinois River Correctional Center officers were promised COVID-19 testing and a 14-day paid quarantine period following their work at the Stateville Correctional Center, near Chicago, where at least 70 staff and 122 incarcerated individuals tested positive for COVID-19.
But O'Brian said they're now being sent back Tuesday without those provisions.
"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," he said in a statement sent to WCBU on Monday evening. "The State must provide this service. To directly refuse these employees’ testing is a dereliction of duty."
Three of the correctional officers working at the Canton prison live in Fulton County. One each live in the cities of Peoria and Pekin. So far, the medium-security men's Illinois River Correctional Center has no documented COVID-19 cases.
O'Brian said Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office supports the IDOC policy change.
Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said Monday night that the policy is a subject of an active labor negotation between IDOC and AFSCME, which represents correctional workers.
"At the beginning of each shift, each Department of Corrections employee is subject to screening before entering a facility. They are provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which they wear throughout their shift," she said. "Any symptomatic employee will not be permitted to work and can then be tested. An asymptomatic correctional officer can be tested at any of the state’s drive-thru testing centers."
O'Brian said state Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) and state Rep. Mike Unes (R-East Peoria) are negotiating with Pritzker and IDOC to make allowances for the officers.
"We are imploring him to show his leadership in this situation by directing the DOC to do the right thing and test these prison workers," said O'Brian. "They heroically stepped up, in a time of desperation and served their state, with the expectation that their well-being would be a priority. These employees need to be tested and paid to be quarantined to protect themselves, their families, and our communities."
The statement was also issued on behalf of the mayors of Peoria, Pekin, and Canton.
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