A fifth inmate in an Illinois prison has succumbed from a COVID-19-related illness, state officials confirmed Monday.
They were all men, the youngest in his 50s, and incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet.
The fatalities occurred within a two-week span as officials with the Illinois Department of Corrections said they are working to thwart further spread of the virus in prisons across the state.
The two most recent fatalities were last week. One man was in his 60s and the other in his 70s. Their names were not immediately available Monday.
An earlier victim, Larry Bourbon, 65, died April 3 at Stateville. He is the only one of the five men who died at the prison rather than a hospital.
He was incarcerated since the late 1990s while serving a 60-year term for the aggravated sexual assault of a minor in Winnebago County.
Two days after he died, 66-year-old Ronald Rice succumbed to a virus-related death.
Rice had been in prison since the early 1980s on charges related to child molestation when he admitted he earlier had kidnapped, raped and killed an 11-year-old Oak Forest boy. Rice received an additional 80-year term for the murder.
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Russell Sedelmaier, 59, was the first Stateville inmate to die from the virus on March 29.
Sedelmaier was serving life for murdering a pastor and his adult daughter in their Buffalo Grove home in 2005.
As on Monday, the Illinois Department of Corrections has announced confirmed cases in 14 of its nearly four dozen facilities.
The problem at Stateville is particularly dire, where most of the system’s 107 staff and 146 inmates who tested positive are located.
Prison reform advocates have file lawsuits arguing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has been too slow to respond to the pandemic in prisons, putting inmates and staff at further risk.
Late last week, a federal judge denied an effort to immediately release potentially thousands of inmates, saying that while the pandemic is clearly a serious threat there was “no convincing reason for a federal court to intrude here and now."
U.S. District Judge Robert Dow issued the opinion after a pair of lawsuits were filed by a consortium of advocates seeking the release of as many as 13,000 prisoners due to the COVID-19 crisis, including many who were convicted of non-violent offenses, are elderly, at elevated risk to get ill, or have already served most of their sentences.
The judge acknowledged the serious of the situation, but he said that Pritzker and other stake holders have taken steps to contain the spread of the virus that “plainly pass constitutional muster,” even if it is not exactly what the plaintiffs were seeking.
The Illinois Prison Project, one of the groups involved in the litigation, called the deaths senseless, preventable and predictable.
“Social distancing is impossible in prison, and is even more difficult for elderly and infirm people, who rely on other inmates for toileting, to eat and dress, and to get and from dialysis and other medical appointments,” said Jennifer Soble, the group’s executive director, on Monday. “Unless Governor Pritzker and the Department of Corrections act quickly to protect elderly and medically vulnerable prisoners by relocating them out that congregate setting, I am afraid that these five deaths will be the tip of the iceberg.”