CREST HILL – Prisoners at an Illinois Department of Corrections reception center live among mice, rats, cockroaches and other insects, have seen feces in the kitchen and are forced to eat rotten food, among other issues, according to a lawsuit filed this week by an inmate at the far southwest Crest Hill facility.
The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Illinois by the Uptown People’s Law Center and Jenner & Block LLP on behalf of inmate Gregory Shipp, names David Gomez, director of the Northern Reception and Classification Center, and Rob Jeffreys, the center’s director . , as defendants.
Shipp, an inmate at the facility and on behalf of “everyone else like him”, claims in the lawsuit that the approximately 1,000 prisoners held there suffer violations of their constitutional rights because of their living conditions .
The NRC, a temporary “reception” center for prisoners before they are sent to other IDOC facilities, is “riddled with vermin and covered in dangerous mold”, according to the lawsuit.
Contacted Friday evening about the lawsuit, IDOC spokesperson Gregory Runyan responded by email. “The Illinois Department of Corrections cannot comment on ongoing litigation,” the email read.
Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said the nonprofit legal services organization has been responding to complaints about conditions at the center, 19647 Division St., since at least 2015 when it sent an inquiry to several hundred prisoners at the facility. .
Lawsuit alleges Illinois pastor helped retired priest evade police after accident leaves 1 dead
Mills said the facility was originally opened to hold people for about a week before they were moved to a permanent IDOC facility, but during the COVID-19 pandemic they began to spend there until more than a year. Now people spend an average of one to two months at NRC, Mills said.
The organization has collected publicly available documents and is corresponding with hundreds of prisoners to gather evidence of poor living conditions at the facility, Mills said.
Ben Bradford, a lawyer with law firm Jenner & Block, said his team had also conducted more than a dozen interviews with prisoners over the past year asking them about conditions there. They also received the same response from the prisoners.
“When you start to get that kind of consistency among people who can’t, you know, communicate with each other or otherwise coordinate their responses, then the veracity of those complaints increases dramatically in our minds,” Mills said. .
The lawsuit alleges a vermin infestation at the NRC that includes mice, rats, birds and insects.
“Vermin are a daily sight for prisoners,” the lawsuit states. “Mice go in and out of the cells all night. Cockroaches climb up walls, crawl through bedding, and bury themselves in items in the commissary. Gnats and flies swarm in the flooded puddles in the communal showers. Several varieties of insects cling to excess moisture in cell sinks and toilets – a condition that further exacerbates insect infestation,” the suit alleges.
The problem worsens in the winter, as the vermin escape the cold, according to the lawsuit.
Because of the mice and insects, the prisoners have trouble sleeping, which affects their immune system and makes them more susceptible to disease, according to the lawsuit. Vermin also exposes prisoners to infection and disease, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges unsanitary plumbing at the facility.
“In cells, NRC prisoners have to deal with cell toilets that won’t flush and back up, causing raw sewage to overflow inside the cell, sometimes coating the floor with stagnant sewage” , says the lawsuit.
“Prisoners also lack adequate cleaning supplies to combat filth in their cells, including the inability to clean toilets in cells covered in excrement,” according to the lawsuit.
Prisoners also reported that the toilets were covered in mold, according to the lawsuit. Interconnected plumbing sometimes leads to toilet water backing up into sinks where prisoners brush their teeth or prisoners use to drink water, according to the lawsuit.
“There have been instances where the plumbing has backed up in the kitchen and showers. In these instances, human excrement was seen floating on the kitchen floor and in the flooded communal showers,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also alleges that prisoners must eat spoiled or rotten food or go hungry. Their complaints about spoiled food are being ignored by staff, according to the lawsuit.
“Prisoners describe being given the ‘Stateville Special,’ a concoction of rotting pieces of meat with visible green spots, as well as seeing rodent droppings in their food,” the lawsuit alleges.
Mills and Bradford said the complaints are not exclusive to this IDOC facility. Bradford said he hopes the lawsuit pushes the facility and department to address the complaints highlighted in the lawsuit and create more humane conditions at all of its facilities.
Mills said the reception center plays a unique role in the Illinois prison system because it is the center through which all prisoners in the state enter the system.
“In general, going to jail is a psychological and physical shock to people,” Mills said, adding that statistics show people are at a higher risk of suicide or self-harm during their first weeks in jail.
“All of these types of harms that happen are much more likely to happen in the first few weeks in jail,” Mills said. “And putting someone in some of the worst conditions in the entire department for those first two weeks overstates it all.”
Photos: Crows murder throws problem at Missouri courthouse