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Friday, January 8, 2021

Court Upholds Executive Order Requiring COVID-19 Screening Protocol for Prison Transferees

An Illinois Appellate Court determined that Governor Pritzker has the authority to require the Department of Corrections to accept prison transfers from county jails, subject to an intake process designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Landers v. Pritzker

On March 26, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order 2020-13, which suspended all transfers of individuals in Illinois county jails to DOC custody, with exceptions developed at the sole discretion of the Director of the DOC. On July 24, 2020, Illinois County sheriffs filed suit, challenging the Governor’s authority to stop prison transfers, and seeking a court order to compel DOC to accept all transfers of prisoners to its custody. Three days later, on July 27, 2020, Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order 2020-50, which rescinded Executive Order 2020-13, and declared that the DOC “will resume accepting the transfer of individuals from Illinois county jails, subject to an intake process designed to ensure the health and safety of the transferring individuals, as well as all individuals and staff at the IDOC.” That same day, DOC issued a memorandum requiring transferees to be quarantined for 14 days prior to transfer and tested for COVID-19 72 hours before the transfer. Transferees who tested positive would have their transfer to a DOC facility postponed.

The sheriffs argued that the executive order exceeded the Governor’s authority by placing conditions on the acceptance of prison transfers despite the fact that the DOC is required, by statute, to accept all properly committed transferees, regardless of any COVID-19 screening protocol. The trial court agreed and ordered DOC to immediately begin accepting transfers of “all inmates who would normally be sent to DOC,” without requiring the sheriffs to follow any protocols designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On appeal, the Appellate Court reversed the trial court and upheld the validity of the executive order. The Court reasoned that Section 7(8) of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act (20 ILCS 3305/7) authorizes the Governor to control the “movement of persons within a disaster area,” and that the purpose of the Act is to provide the Governor with broad authority to address emergencies. The Court also found it noteworthy that the Governor rescinded Executive Order 2020-13 and replaced it with Executive Order 2020-50, allowing the transfer of prisoners to resume with restrictions intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Because the executive order was designed to ensure the health and safety of transferees, the larger DOC population, and DOC staff during a pandemic, the Appellate Court held that the executive order was a permissible use of the Governor’s broad authority under the Act.

Post authored by Rain Montero & Julie Tappendorf


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