CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois prisons and jails will soon be required to notify families when their incarcerated loved ones die. As part of the sweeping criminal justice overhaul now awaiting Governor J.B. Pritzker’s signature, state correctional facilities must investigate deaths in custody and report them to immediate family members, as well as the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, a state agency that conducts research and analysis.
The Reporting Deaths in Custody Act affords a sliver of transparency to families who struggle to get information from the Illinois Department of Corrections, a problem exacerbated by Covid-19. But mothers like Cynthia McDonald wonder why families cannot be informed of loved ones’ illnesses while they are still alive.
In December, Injustice Watch reported allegations from McDonald and another Illinois mother that the corrections department never contacted them when their incarcerated sons were hospitalized with Covid-19.
The nonprofit news outlet Injustice Watch provided this article to The Associated Press through a collaboration with Institute for Nonprofit News.
McDonald’s son, Joseph Wilson, died from the virus in April 2020. He was incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois. Throughout Wilson’s illness, McDonald alleges she received no communication from the corrections department, instead learning of her son’s hospitalization from an off-duty correctional officer he was friends with.
Advocates say that there’s more work to be done to ensure that family members aren’t left in the dark about their loved ones’ health once they enter the prison system.
In her son’s final days, McDonald recalled feeling helpless and frustrated as she tried to get information on his...