Illinois Department of Corrections

Illinois officials have persuaded a federal judge to delay a trial over health care in state prisons.

The move drew a rebuke from the plaintiffs’ lawyers — who are representing a group that includes every inmate in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Google Maps

A federal judge has ruled the Illinois prison system is still providing inadequate mental healthcare to inmates and that the treatment qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling comes after attorneys representing inmates filed a claim last year with the court that the department was not following through on a settlement reached in 2016 to overhaul mental health treatment in Illinois prisons.

Vicki White, president of Chicago Books to Women in Prison, reads a letter sent from an incarcerated woman to the organization, which donates books to women in prisons in Illinois and across the country.
Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Newsroom

Every Sunday, a group of women meets in the basement of a church in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood to sort and package boxes of books. The boxes are sent to women in prisons in Illinois and beyond the state’s borders. In total, the group, Chicago Books to Women in Prison (BWP), has sent nearly 20,000 books to incarcerated women in the last five years, and tens of thousands since the organization was founded in 2002.


State Week logo
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner made a rare request for a meeting with the four legislative leaders of the General Assembly — House and Senate, Democratic and Republican. In a show of how once-ordinary tasks can be touted as achievements in the current toxic political climate, Republicans left the meeting saying they were pleased Democrats agreed to appoint budget negotiators.

They also apparently agreed to set a "revenue estimate" — the amount of  money Illinois government expects to collect, and thus to spend, in the next budget year.

Google Maps

The Illinois Department of Corrections says a major cash crunch has it struggling to keep its facilities running.

The warning came Wednesday at a Senate budget hearing. But some Democratic lawmakers say that was the first time they were hearing the situation was so dire.

Screen capture of Prison Legal News newsletter
Prison Legal News

The publisher of a newsletter about the criminal justice system filed a lawsuit this week against the Illinois Department of Corrections alleging that multiple state prisons barred inmates from receiving all or part of several publications.

State Week logo
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The field of Democrats running for governor has gotten smaller as Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar ends his campaign. Meanwhile, the AFSCME union says the Illinois Department of Corrections isn't doing enough to keep correctional officers safe.

Roberta Lynch
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The labor union representing Illinois prison workers says assaults are way up. AFSCME is asking the state to do more to keep its members safe.

Logan Correctional Center
Google Maps

Advocates say Illinois’ treatment of prisoners with mental illness is so bad — the prison system is in a “state of emergency.” They’re asking a federal judge to intervene.

Tom Lisi / NPR Illinois

The spring legislative session has been overshadowed by a 22-month stretch without a budget. Nevertheless, meaty legislation is being weighed. Those issues include abortion, wage theft, animal research and criminal justice.

John Baldwin
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The Illinois Department of Corrections on Wednesday announced most of its workers have completed mental-illness training. It's part of the settlement in a long-running legal dispute over how Illinois prisons treat inmates with mental-heath disorders.

State prison director John Baldwin says the training will help make working in prisons a safer job.

"Seventy-eight percent of all assaults on staff across the United States are committed by an offender with an identified behavioral health issue," Baldwin says.

flickr/meeshpants

Illinois is making a concerted effort to encourage former prisoners to put skills they learned behind bars to use in the real world. 

Fewer than one percent of applicants with criminal records are turned away when they apply to the state for a professional license, but Illinois' Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation, Bryan Schneider, says anecdotally, the department knows many former convicts don't even try.

  Water from the city of Mount Sterling is flowing to Western Illinois Correctional Center, but money to pay for that water isn't flowing back from the state. Illinois owes the city of 2,000 people more than $300,000.

Logan Correctional Center
Google Maps

  A federal judge has approved the settlement in a lawsuit over the treatment of Illinois’ mentally ill prisoners.

Without admitting wrongdoing, Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin says his agency is building four new mental health units, hiring more staff, and changing its policies on solitary confinement.

The use of solitary confinement has drawn increasing scrutiny nationwide. And last week, the John Howard Association issued a statement (PDF) on the practice in Illinois prisons.

The John Howard Association is an independent watchdog, monitoring conditions and advocating for more humane treatment in Illinois prisons. We spoke to the group's director, Jennifer Vollen-Katz.

Stateville Correctional Center
Google Maps

Last December, the state of Illinois tentatively agreed to settle a class action lawsuit over the treatment of prisoners with mental illness. But changes to mental health at the Department of Corrections have been slow in coming, in part because Illinois has gone more than 9 months without a budget.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to reduce the state's prison population by twenty-five percent in the next 10 years. But the state's budget impasse is putting ex-offenders at greater risk of returning to prison.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner endorsed the work of his criminal justice commission Thursday. He also made an unusual statement on prisons.

Commissioners are still working to reach Rauner’s goal of reducing Illinois' inmate population by 12,000 men and women over the next decade. They have delivered their first set of recommendations, and Rauner told commissioners he was excited about the report, calling it "excellent."

"What I can guarantee you: I will work tirelessly to make sure this isn't just something that just gathers dust," he said. "I’m going to implement this."

flickr/meeshpants

Lawyers representing 11,000 mentally ill Illinois prisoners have reached a settlement with the state in a 2007 class-action lawsuit alleging that substandard treatment constituted ``cruel and unusual punishment.'' 

hot dogs neon sign
Jeremy Brooks / via Flickr.com/jeremybrooks

Even though much of Illinois government is operating without a budget, the state is still looking to spend money. Right now, on Illinois’ procurement website, there are dozens of notices. Reporter Kurt Erickson returns to State of the State for a procurement primer.

TRANSCRIPT: From NPR Illinois, it’s State of the State. I’m Brian Mackey, and the state of the state today is on a buying spree.

SOUNDBITE: "And they ran out of hot dog spice, or wiener spice, as I called it. And they had to go out and try to find some and emergency purchase."

Governor Bruce Rauner has named an official with the U.S. State Department to lead the Illinois Department of Corrections.

A statement Monday from the Governor's office says Rauner selected 54 year old Donald Stolworthy to head Corrections.

According to the release from the Governor, Stolworthy has 15 years of corrections experience.  He currently works at the State Department in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs where he assesses foreign prison systems.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner visited a state prison Wednesday. It’s the first time a sitting governor has done that in years.

Rauner says an overhaul of Illinois’ criminal justice system a priority for his administration.

"The Department of Corrections is operating at more than 150 percent of its design capacity," Rauner says. "That is unsafe to both inmates and staff."

Logan Correctional Center
Google Maps

The union that represents Illinois prison guards says inmates at the Logan Correctional Center committed about 400 assaults since the lockup was converted to an all-women facility in 2013.  

However, Corrections Department officials are disputing the numbers.  

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees released documents Thursday showing assaults ranging from spitting to fighting, kicking and punching.  

flickr/dnak

Illinois has a clear ambition for what it would like to do with members of its criminal class, and it’s right there in the name of the state agency set up to deal with them: the Department of Corrections. But there is a wide gap between ambition and practice. This is not to blame the department: politicians enacted the policies that have swelled the prison population, and politicians are largely responsible for the dire financial condition of the state that has squeezed agencies like the DOC.

Logan Correctional Center
Google Maps

Illinois’ main prison for women has nearly 2,000 inmates. An outside monitor says that’s the result of poor planning when Illinois closed the prison at Dwight nearly two years ago.

The majority of Illinois female inmates are incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center in central Illinois.

John Howard Association director John Maki says the state ought not be housing 1,985 women in a prison built to hold 1,106.

Doing Right By The Kids

Dec 1, 2014

This story first appeared in the June 2014 issue.

Special monitoring visits to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice recently found youth detainees mowing lawns and building shelves rather than attending educational courses. Monitors discovered youth being given medication with inadequate consent and living in rooms that were improperly maintained. Facilities were found to lack the proper staff to treat juvenile offenders with mental illnesses.

Not long ago, attempts to raise criminal penalties in Illinois were met with a standing joke. All such legislation had to make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where by informal agreement, it could only advance if it satisfied the sole criterion of the Cullerton Rule. On April 20, 2005, Sen. Edward Maloney, a Democrat from Chicago, presented House Bill 2699, a bipartisan measure that sought to raise the penalties for identity theft.

Illinois Department of Corrections

The state agency that oversees prisons does not expect to make significant changes to its operations, following the escape of an inmate last week from a minimum security prison located about an hour east of St. Louis.

Officials issued an alert when 21-year-old Marcus Battice escaped from Vandalia Correctional Center, where he was serving time for stealing a car. Battice turned up the next morning, about three-and-a-half miles away.

Series Part 3: Death In Illinois Prisons

Jul 10, 2014
flickr/Brad K.

Illinois taxpayers pay a private company more than a hundred million dollars a year to give health care to prison inmates.

Yet no one in Illinois knows how good, or bad, the care is.

But that will likely change soon.

As part of our series “Of natural causes: Death in Illinois prisons,” WBEZ’s Robert Wildeboer reports.

On July 28, 2012 Elawndoe Shannon put in a request for sick call at the prison where he was housed in Lawrence, Illinois.

Two days later, he died.

Series Part 2: Prison Deaths In Illinois

Jul 9, 2014
flickr/Fiona Dalwood

Between 80 and a hundred people die behind bars in Illinois every year.

The average age of the people who die is 54.

The Department of Corrections says it carefully reviews every death, but information on deaths provided to Chicago public station WBEZ was scattershot and incomplete.

Rob Wildeboer continues our series, “Of natural causes: Death in Illinois prisons.”

Keith Dean has a manila envelope that causes him a lot of grief and regret, but he can’t throw it out.

Pages