The Campaign to Free Incarcerated Survivors of Police Torture (CFIST) is a campaign of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, pushing for the freedom of those who have been tortured and wrongfully imprisoned by the Chicago Police Department. This struggle is rooted in the recognition that torture and wrongful conviction by the racist CPD are an extension of the larger system of police occupation and terror in Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Chicanx, and Puerto Rican communities. The primary aim of this campaign is to demand the governor grant immediate pardons to all those whose cases have been deemed credible by the Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission.
The struggle CFIST was borne out of has a long legacy spearheaded by survivors and their families, who organized around the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois, freedom for those tortured into giving false confessions, and the demand for community control of the police. Today, those same families and survivors have seen the death penalty reinstated by the COVID-19 crisis, with 34 reported deaths from COVID-19 in IDOC facilities as of December 8th. The Illinois Department of Corrections is allowing a humanitarian crisis to unfold across the state, in violation of UN-sanctioned mandates and to the horror of their families on the outside.
Conditions inside Illinois’ prisons are at crisis levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic. IDOC’s communal living conditions, aggravated by overcapacity crowding, have allowed respiratory diseases to spread like wildfire. The widespread lockdown protocols do not mitigate disease transmission and have disastrous mental health effects. The following is a tiny peek at what living in IDOC is like:
Today another man died. That makes 4 total in the last couple of weeks just where I am, there of which were on the same gallery as I am. Another 4 or 5 guys are still out at the hospital. This is terrifying and psychologically stressful. All of these guys have died who were friends to a lot of us, and mental health hasn’t even come to see if guys need to talk to someone. – Stateville
My cellmate was told to pack up his belongings so he could be moved to the gym, because he tested positive for COVID-19. The gymnasium was converted into a place for housing inmates whom either came in contact or contracted COVID-19. The gym is now a place with 3 or 4 tents with 8 inmates to a tent, all infected and in close contact with one another. My cell mate was put in this “tent city” for four days, and after four days he was released and put right back in the cell with me, thus putting my life in danger. He was not tested before being released from the tent city and couldn’t confirm if he still had COVID-19 or not. – Stateville CC
We’re locked down 23 hours a day, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night, not nearly enough time to shower and call our families. We haven’t been to the commissary and we don’t get daily rec. Our families are under the false pretense that this is an administrative quarantine and not a lockdown. – Dixon
In addition to the COVID-19 threat, people incarcerated in Illinois prisons have reported numerous other hazardous conditions that threaten their lives and well-being. Stateville and Lawrence have been without heat, with winter months fast approaching, and the knowledge that COVID-19 spreads more quickly in cold air. The water is contaminated at Hill, Pontiac, and Stateville -- and incarcerated people do not have the option to purchase clean water from the commissary, forcing them to drink water they know will make them ill.
There was an investigation of the Illinois Department of Public Health back in June at Pontiac Correctional Facility that found legionella in the water. Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia that attacks the respiratory system and travels through water and steam, making it particularly deadly when combined with COVID-19. Clearly, the necessary steps were not taken to follow up on this report in the five months since it came out, as we are hearing from people inside that they are still getting sick with Legionnaires’. These prisons are functioning as factories of illness, suffering, and death. The safety of those inside is being threatened from every direction.
On top of this, video visits, phone calls, and communication with people outside of the prison is being severely limited, and sometimes tampered with. At Hill, folks inside are locked inside their cells for four days in a row, getting only 30 minutes every four days to call their loved ones or shower. Outside time is being cut at all prisons. Imprisonment is always an attack on the mental well-being of the imprisoned, but these actions are a full-frontal assault.
According to spending records on the Illinois Comptroller’s website, some facilities (including Stateville and Hill) have recently spent thousands on contract healthcare services. However, Pontiac, Menard, and Dixon have reported very minimal or no spending since the beginning of the pandemic. The only reported COVID-19 spending thus far at Pontiac was a little more than $360 for plastic wrap and air filters. This being the only spending for a facility that imprisons over 1,100 people means about 30 cents have been spent per person on so-called preventative measures. At Menard, no spending has been reported, and at Dixon $380 was spent on disinfectant wipes while over $7,000 was spent on foam containers. The reported numbers are just not adding up and there is little to no transparency in regards to facility spending during this crisis.
Survivors of police torture, who must be reunited with their families someday soon, do not deserve to face these dehumanizing conditions. No one does. While we wait on our governor to do the right thing and pardon all survivors who have been found to have credible cases of torture by the TIRC, folks deserve to have adequate food, heat and water to sustain them. Being found guilty of committing a crime should not mean that your life is treated as worthless. We demand that change happen immediately to preserve the lives of our loved ones unjustly living within prison walls.
The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression is demanding swift decarceration of Illinois prisons and jails and immediate changes to safeguard the health and dignity of incarcerated people in Illinois. Incarceration given current conditions, particularly amidst this devastating second wave of COVID-19, is nothing short of a death sentence. Many environmental and policy issues contribute to chronic and acute illness in the prison population, much of which could be prevented or addressed with some basic steps. The following are our demands, effective immediately:
- Pardon ALL torture survivors and wrongfully convicted, commute the sentences of the elderly and at-risk to time served now, regardless of the status of any pending appeals that can still go forward once they are out. End the queue of clemency petitions in which each petition is examined separately. The Prisoner Review Board is not functioning because of the pandemic; meanwhile prisoners are sick and dying.
- In light of overcrowding and other conditions which make COVID precautions impossible inside the prisons, as many incarcerated people as possible should be released immediately by any and all means, including those outlined above. Additionally, overcrowding of any kind must be ended at once.
- End lockdowns, whether official or de facto. Months without movement, inconsistent and punitive protocols, and extremely limited access to phone calls and video visits with loved ones have had a detrimental impact on the physical and mental well-being of those in IDOC, while failing to adequately protect them from COVID-19. While restricting in-person visitation is necessary, yard time, phone calls, and video visits are essential to the well-being of incarcerated people.
- Adequately heat prisons. Cold temperatures only increase the likelihood of illness and lower immunity for all subjected to them. This is especially urgent in light of increased commissary restrictions, which prevent prisoners from buying warm clothes.
- Give all incarcerated people access to unlimited water which is free from contamination with Legionnella, the bacteria which causes Legionnaire's disease, lead, and other contaminants. Adequate hydration is an important aspect of immune function, and people should not be required to buy water because tap water is contaminated, especially when Legionnaire's disease and Covid 19 are spreading throughout the prison population. Provide bottled water to all incarcerated people, free of charge, sufficient for hydration and personal sanitation.
- Test anyone in contact with IDOC, including incarcerated people, staff, and other personnel regularly and universally.
- Quarantine all incarcerated people who are symptomatic with fever, cough, and other symptoms of flu and/or Covid 19, with daily visits from medical staff to evaluate acuity of illness and the possible need for hospitalization. These quarantine measures should follow all CDC guidelines, and the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.
- Designate comfortable, safe, hazard-free, and adequately spacious areas for the isolation of incarcerated people who are symptomatic.
- Inspect and publically prove that prisons are in compliance with health and safety regulations reported on as part of public health protections.
- Repair the physical structures incarcerated people are housed in. Leaking and flooding have lead to the growth of mold, which causes serious and lasting damage to humans who are exposed.
- Prioritize anyone in contact with IDOC, including incarcerated people, staff, and other personnel, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Supply staff and incarcerated people with adequate personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies in order to limit the spread of disease. Require staff to properly sanitize all living quarters. It is now known that the virus spreads through sewage and mist from toilets; unsanitary conditions in cells are breeding this disease. Prisoners shouldn’t be on their own to clean and disinfect their living quarters, especially when they are given no supplies with which to do this.
- Give all Incarcerated people, including those in quarantine, consistent access to phone calls and video visits, free of interruption and tampering.