Degorski being prepared for prison transfer

Published: 10/21/2009 6:21 PM | Updated: 10/21/2009 6:22 PM

Twenty-four hours after receiving a life sentence, James Degorski's daily routine remains pretty much the same as it was 24 hours before he learned of his sentence.

Convicted last month for the 1993 slayings of seven workers at a Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta, Degorski remains at the Cook County Jail, where he has been since his 2002 arrest, and where he will reside until his transfer into the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections within the next two weeks or so.

Per his request, he is being held in protective custody, said Steve Patterson, spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff's Department. Inmates in protective custody have a cell to themselves, Patterson said. Their movement is restricted and they have little interaction with other inmates, he said.

After the six-man, six-woman jury convicted him and found him eligible for the death penalty, corrections officers classified Degorski as a high-risk inmate, per department procedure, Patterson said. That means Degorski spends 23 hours a day in his cell. His movement is restricted and officers observe him more closely than other defendants, Patterson said.

The special status is reserved for the jail's most violent inmates or for convicted felons who authorities believe might try to harm themselves, Patterson said. Corrections officers testified during the trial that Degorski has been a model prisoner and has had only two minor infractions in seven years in jail. Moreover, there has been no indication that Degorski has ever attempted suicide.

Patterson said that Degorski has never caused problems for the guards. He also noted that Degorski's demeanor has not changed in response to the jury verdicts. Within the next two weeks or so, Degorski will be transferred to one of the state's maximum security correctional centers: Pontiac (opened in June, 1871), Menard (opened in March, 1878) or Stateville (opened in March, 1925).

Tamms, the state's supermax facility, is reserved for IDOC's most incorrigible inmates. Because of his good record at Cook County, Degorski would be assigned there only if he becomes violent or disruptive at another facility.

Degorski and his cellmate could spend up to 18 hours a day in their 70-square-foot cell, consisting of bunk beds and a combination toilet and sink, which a Degorski attorney described as "a tight squeeze."

He can have three showers a week and is allowed five hours of recreation spent with about 150 other inmates. Prisoners eat breakfast in their cells, but have lunch and dinner in a communal dining room. Life in general population is noisier, more chaotic and more dangerous than life on death row, said former IDOC assistant director George DeTella, testifying Monday during the sentencing phase of Degorski's capital murder trial.

Degorski can receive visitors five times a month. He can get a prison job and with the money he earns purchase items - including food, clothes and small electronics - from the prison commissary.

Degorski returns to courtroom 500 in Chicago's Criminal Courts Building at 9 a.m. Nov. 4 for sentencing and post trial motions.