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Lawsuit: Illinois Prison Infested with Rats, Inmates Forced to Drink “Sewage” Water

— February 18, 2022

Attorneys described in lurid detail the allegedly horrific conditions at the Northern Reception and Classification Center outside Joliet, Illinois.

A recently filed lawsuit alleges that inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections facility outside Joliet are forced to endure unconstitutional living conditions, with rat-infested cells, unhygienic food, and raw sewage spilling into common areas.

According to The Chicago Sun-Times, the class action lawsuit was filed on Thursday against top officials at the Northern Reception and Classification Center.

The complaint alleges that common practices and conditions at the Center, which is part of the Stateville correctional complex, violate the rights of an estimated 1,100 inmates and detainees.

In their lawsuit, inmates claim that cells and common spaces are shared with mice, rats, insects, and birds.

While the class names a number of defendants, it accords significant blame to Warden David Gomez and Northern Reception and Classification Center Director Rob Jeffreys.

Image via Rennett Stowe/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-2.0)

Both men, say the inmates, allowed the inhumane conditions to develop, and then took no action to amend them once detainees began complaining.

“Mice run in and out of cells all night long. Cockroaches crawl up the walls, crawl into bedding, and bury themselves in commissary items,” the lawsuit alleges. “Gnats and flies swarm the pools of flooded water in common shower areas.”

The lawsuit, adds The Chicago Sun-Times, was filed by the non-profit Uptown People’s Law Center and the Chicago-based office of the Jenner & Block law firm.

Attorneys for the inmates say that conditions become perilously dangerous in winter, as rodents, insects, and other wildlife seek refuge from cold weather inside the prison.

“Within the confines of their cells, prisoners have no escape from the bugs and mice that crawl, scurry, and burrow in every corner,” the lawsuit states. “This sense of helplessness, on a day-to-day basis, degrades the psychological health of all prisoners who experience it.”

Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said that adjusting to life in prison is always difficult. However, Mills says that inmates still have rights, and that those rights have been violated by the conditions inside the Northern Reception and Classification Center.

“Entering prison is always going to be a shock,” Mills said. “But forcing people to endure infestation by vermin, undrinkable water, and extended solitary confinement when they first enter Illinois’ prison system is unacceptable and serves no legitimate purpose.”

InjusticeWatch notes that other activists have already protested conditions in the center.

In one December protest, organizers from the Chicago-based Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation stood outside the Stateville complex, claiming that inmates were denied amenities as basic as clean drinking water.

The class action makes a similar complaint, saying that prisoners live with poor-quality plumbing system and unclean water.

Sometimes, the lawsuit says, prisoners who cannot afford or obtained bottled water from the commissary must drink water from their cell taps—water that is often brown and reeks of sewage.

“Prison officials have known how bad the conditions are for years but they’ve chosen to ignore the situation and shuffle prisoners along in the penal system,” said Jenner & Block attorney Ben Bradford. “We want to shine a light on the inhumane conditions at the Northern Reception Center; it’s time to amplify prisoners’ voices and force change at this facility.”


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