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 on: July 27, 2015, 02:58:45 PM 
Started by me - Last post by me
Testimony of the John Howard Association of Illinois

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, Executive Director

Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform

July 27, 2015


The John Howard Association (JHA) is Illinois' only independent, non-partisan prison monitor. Our mission is to achieve a fair, humane, and effective criminal justice system by advocating for change in correctional policy and practices and promoting reform inside Illinois' adult and juvenile prisons. We believe that how we run prisons, treat inmates, train and empower correctional staff, and interpret and apply constitutional standards in our prisons is not only important in how it affects prisoners and their ability to successfully reenter society - it directly impacts the lives of every Illinois resident, as we all depend upon the criminal justice system to make our communities safer and who we put in prison and why we put them there is a reflection of who we are as a society.


Illinois has long-proclaimed that the purpose of punishment is to protect the safety and welfare of the pubic and to reform offenders. This principle is reflected in the Illinois Constitution, which mandates that, "All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship." The Illinois Supreme Court summed up the equity principle underlying our notion of "just punishment" quite clearly in the 1889 case, Sykes v. Illinois, stating: "On the one hand, punishment will not be inflicted unless deserved, while, on the other hand, it will not be imposed unless for conservation of the public good."


This principle is as relevant today as it was a century ago. The groundbreaking contemporary treatise on mass incarceration, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences,[1] published by the National Research Council in April 2014, recognized that four long-established democratic values must guide any discussion of criminal justice and sentencing policy: proportionality, parsimony, citizenship, and social justice. If Illinois is to embrace and uphold these core values, we will have to reconsider and fundamentally change the way that we use our prisons.


The report issued by the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform (Commission) on July 1, 2015, accurately recounts how piecemeal changes in prosecution and sentencing policies over the past four decades dramatically increased our prison population leading to the crisis of over incarceration that we have today. JHA commends the Commission for its initial report, and agrees with the findings, processes, and goals articulated therein. The challenge now facing the Commission and Illinois is to take bold action to put this conceptual framework into practice. To do this, our elected officials must marshal the political will to enact necessary reforms. Maintaining the status quo of mass incarceration and failed criminal justice policies is no longer an option.


In addition to the findings and recommendations set forth by the Commission in its initial report, JHA believes that the following issues also necessitate attention by the Commission and Illinois' lawmakers:


Existing Prison System Deficits


Inhumane and unconstitutional conditions in Illinois' prisons cannot be effectively remedied absent a drastic reduction in our prison population. Holding inmates in substandard conditions, while depriving them of access to basic human services and rehabilitative treatment is contrary to the constitutional objective of restoring offenders (the vast majority whom return to the community) to "useful citizenship." Improvements within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) are critical to advance reform.


First and foremost, sure and steady leadership is needed at the helm of IDOC. Additionally, lack of transparency and data collection must also be addressed, along with inefficiencies in the state hiring process that prevent the timely, effective hiring and placement of qualified prison staff. As noted by the Commission, data collection, program evaluation, and transparency have not been IDOC's strengths. However, the agency has not had funding, staff, or technology in place to support improvement in these areas. Going forward, this must change.


IDOC needs stable, effective, and accountable leadership to implement practical changes for population reduction and initiatives that will lead to successful reentry for people leaving prison and returning to their home communities. IDOC leadership must be realistic and candid about the limits of the agency's capacities and the resources that it needs. Effective collection and communication of information, which are necessary to evaluate the quality and efficacy of reform, will require technology upgrades and other expenditures on staff and training.[2]


Intergovernmental collaborations also must be strengthened to ensure that information is appropriately shared to the benefit and efficiency of all agencies that touch justice-involved individuals, including Sheriffs' Departments, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Children and Family Services, and the Secretary of State. For reform to succeed, existing system breakdowns must be frankly acknowledged and remedied.


Today, without formal evaluation, we know that we need more resources in our prisons devoted to healthcare, education, and other programs that will enable people leaving Illinois prisons to lead productive lives rather than return to prison within three years, as is the case with approximately half of the people currently released. As Illinois' only independent monitor in our prisons, we know this based on the numbers on waitlists for basic education and vocational instruction we observe at every IDOC facility, we know this because of what we see and what is reported to us by prisoners, staff, and administrators. We know that many IDOC inmates are being warehoused in sub-standard conditions for relatively short periods of time and then being released without the benefit of having received programming that gives them the tools they need to succeed and also without sufficient support in reentering society.


Illinois must also revamp the state hiring process for correctional agencies, where the inability to fill critical positions continually hampers progress. Current hiring inefficiencies are not only costly by increasing the amount of money Illinois spends on overtime pay annually; they also negatively impact the day to day operations, programming, and culture within our prisons. By eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic layers in correctional agency hiring, IDOC and individual prisons, will be better able to attract and hire employees with the necessary education and qualifications in a shorter period of time, and will improve working and living conditions within Illinois prisons. Hiring process reforms will empower IDOC to better manage its operations, implement effective programming, and allow the agency to fill vacancies in a timely manner, all of which will improve inmate outcomes and result in cost savings to the state by reducing spending on staff overtime pay.


Use of Discretion


An important and impactful way to stem the tide of mass incarceration is to limit the number of people that enter the criminal justice system. Justice system contact can be reduced through front end actors exercising more responsible use of discretion. Ensuring appropriate exercises of discretion demands greater accountability and transparency by front end system actors.


     Law Enforcement Discretion


The discretion that law enforcement has in deciding whether an incident will result in an arrest, leading to charges being filed, begins the road to detention, indictment, conviction and ultimately sentencing and imprisonment. Without increasing the options available to law enforcement, developing diverse kinds of training, and fostering culture change around how these options are exercised, we leave police with only a very blunt instrument to handle situations that are often complex and multi-dimensional.


If law enforcement is provided with, and trained on, a panoply of methods, resources, and alternatives to arresting people who may be suffering from mental illness, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or otherwise not law abiding but not violent or dangerous, many unnecessary prosecutions and prison sentences would never happen. We do not need to give every transgressor full justice system contact and need to provide alternatives.


Prosecutorial Discretion


The discretion wielded by local prosecutors in bringing charges and deciding what charges to bring, largely determines the fate of most criminal defendants. It is noteworthy that this extraordinary embodiment of power is unreviewable. For too long prosecutorial success has been based on number of convictions achieved, it is time for prosecutors to recognize themselves as system actors and contributors to over incarceration. As stewards and actors in the justice system, prosecutors should be invested in individual and community improvement and success, asking the questions; are more people charged with offenses being rehabilitated when possible, and, are our communities becoming safer and thriving? This perspective must be embraced by prosecutorial supervisors; they must lead by example in carefully reviewing cases with a lens toward fair treatment and effectiveness, as well as public safety. These principles must be taught to new and junior attorneys, who often handle minor offenses, and may lack the experience to view these incidents through a greater lens of system impact and have a gauge on the necessity of prosecuting such crimes.


Prosecutor John Chisholm, District Attorney of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has made efforts to reduce over incarceration and its disproportionate impact on African-American communities. In a recent article discussing his work, he states, "in the U.S. legal system prosecutors may wield even more power than cops. Prosecutors decide whether to bring a case or drop charges against a defendant; charge a misdemeanor or a felony; demand a prison sentence or accept probation. Most cases are resolved through plea bargains, where prosecutors, not judges, negotiate whether and for how long a defendant goes to prison. And prosecutors make these judgments almost entirely outside public scrutiny."[3] It is unclear how in the history of this country prosecutorial discretion has become so unfettered. This practice must stop, until all players in decision making roles commit to changing business as usual, the number of cases prosecuted and whether they result in an individual unnecessarily heading to prison, stemming the tide of mass incarceration will be close to impossible.


Judicial Discretion


Our laws need to be constructed so that judges have the discretion to hand down sentences that are principled, effective, and fair. Mandatory minimums and statutory limitations that impact sentencing credit availability, length of parole, opportunity for parole, as well as alternative placements must be rethought and legislated to provide judges with the opportunity to fully consider each defendant's circumstances and the offense at hand. Criminal sentences should be tailored to each individual situation in a thoughtful way that is not hindered by legislative mandates.


Cost and Responsibility Shifting Between the State and Counties


In order to right-size IDOC's prison population and provide alternatives to imprisonment for low level offenders, jails, probation departments, and other diversion and community based programs must be provided with the resources needed to keep populations once headed to or in IDOC out of IDOC.


Shifting the focus from costly state incarceration to local community approaches that emphasize treatment and rehabilitation makes sense from both a fiscal and public safety perspective. Allowing low level offenders to remain in their communities while receiving treatment and supervision is less costly than incarceration and less disruptive of familial, social and economic ties that are essential to offenders' rehabilitation. However, for such reforms to be effective, we must commit ourselves to investing more resources in essential community services such as housing, job training, education, drug treatment, and medical and mental health care.


In order to realize the goal of rehabilitating offenders and thereby strengthening the communities in which they live or will return to upon release from prison, we must recognize the collateral consequences that impact a person's life simply by having a felony record and/or serving time in prison. Although collateral consequences are not formally part of the sentence handed down by a judge, they are no less punitive. These consequences include barriers to housing, education, and employment, and ineligibility for public benefits. These are real costs incurred by individuals and their communities due to incarceration. Such collateral consequences should be curtailed and more community supports put in place to promote success and prevent recidivism.


Meaningful criminal justice and prison reform and significant cost savings cannot be accomplished without comprehensively addressing deficiencies that exist at every stage of our criminal justice system - from arrest, charging and sentencing, through the conditions of incarceration, and reentry into society. There are no quick, easy, or inexpensive ways to fix our broken system, but there are workable solutions that can have meaningful impact. We must examine what has resulted from the lopsided power dynamics that have been written into our criminal code and promote judges' ability to hand down informed, individualized sentences related to the circumstances of each case. We must be realistic about what offenses merit incarceration. We need to provide alternatives to prison that do not lead to low level offenders being unnecessarily warehoused in IDOC to the benefit of no one, offenders or taxpayers. We have to provide reentry skills, supports, and opportunities to those caught in the net of the criminal justice system so they may reenter the fold of society, rather than remain on the margins at great cost to them, as well as communities large and small throughout Illinois.


We commend the Commission for the work done thus far to articulate the specific policies that must be implemented for these changes to be enacted. We look forward to collaborating with this Commission and all system stakeholders to achieve important change in Illinois.


Respectfully submitted,



Jennifer Vollen-Katz

Executive Director

John Howard Association of Illinois

 2015 Recipient of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions

70 E. Lake Street, Suite 1116

Chicago, IL 60601

(312) 291-9555

 on: July 27, 2015, 01:31:27 PM 
Started by me - Last post by me

Reversal: Illinois prison population dropping

July 26, 2015 6:30 am

SPRINGFIELD Acting on an order from Gov. Bruce Rauner, a special committee is studying how to reduce Illinois' prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years.

But, because of policies already enacted, the state's once-skyrocketing inmate population is already on its way down.

According to the most recent report on crowding within the state's jam-packed correctional system, the population of men and women behind bars has dropped to a level not seen in five years.

According to the report, there were 47,483 inmates in custody in May 2015. That is the lowest number of inmates since May 2010, when the department reported 47,150 behind bars.

The 3.7 percent decrease from the January 2013 peak of 49,321 inmates is being cheered at the Illinois Department of Corrections.

"We are pleased to see the IDOC inmate population trending downward. A reduced prison population not only saves taxpayer dollars but it also promotes a safer prison environment and builds opportunity for stronger communities," said Corrections spokeswoman Nicole Wilson.

The May 2010 numbers represent the beginning of a rapid rise in the number of prisoners flooding the system after former Gov. Pat Quinn canceled a controversial early prisoner release program.

Under the program, thousands of inmates with past convictions for drunken driving and weapons violations were released after spending mere weeks behind bars. The man who oversaw it, former Illinois Department of Corrections Director Michael Randle, resigned.

Following Randle's departure, it took Quinn more than two years to launch a new program that awarded inmates for good behavior.

That program may be having its intended effect of moving inmates out of the system if they are non-violent and have exhibited good behavior behind bars.

The agency said in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, Quinn's revamped program resulted in 2,844 inmates being released early because of the time they earned for good behavior. Through May 2015, the program has resulted in the release of 2,114 inmates.

But, the reduction in the number of inmates being released last year isn't just because of the revamped early release program.

Rather, according to Wilson, it may be because the number of prisoners being sent to IDOC facilities is shrinking.

Since 2009, the number of inmates flowing into the system has taken a sharp drop.

In 2009, for example, the department processed 27,400 inmates into the prison system. In the most recent fiscal year, statistics show that number has fallen to 19,600.

Inmates are sent to the state prison system by county-level judges.

A review of statistics compiled by IDOC shows that in all but 21 of Illinois 102 counties most of them smaller, more rural jurisdictions the number of inmates heading to state correctional facilities has dropped.

In 2009, for example, Cook County sent 13,406 inmates into the system. In the most recent fiscal year, that number dropped to 10,268.

Similar decreases took place through the state, with McLean County's numbers dropping from 462 inmates in 2009 to 274 in the most recent fiscal year.

One factor could be the rise of alternative resolutions for people who've been arrested, such as drug courts.

Since 2009, all 23 of Illinois' judicial circuits have been required to have drug courts, which divert offenders away from prison and into treatment programs.

To be eligible, a defendant must be substance-dependent and charged with a nonviolent felony, such as drug possession, residential burglary or retail theft.

Many counties have had drug courts before they were required.

In McLean County, officials marked the ninth year of operation in April, saying an estimated 170 defendants have been helped by the program.

Champaign County Judge Jeffrey Ford is president of the Illinois Association of Problem-Solving Courts. He said drug courts save money by keeping people out of prison.

"You're talking $18,000 to $19,000 per year in savings," Ford said.

Of the 270 people who have graduated from the Champaign County drug court since 2000, "almost all of them were on their way to the penitentiary," Ford said.

Despite the overall decrease in population, the prison system remains overcrowded. Of the 47,000-plus now behind bars, they are living in facilities that were originally designed to house 32,000 prisoners.

In February, Rauner formed a special commission to investigate ways to reduce the prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years.

In a recently released preliminary report, the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform said there needs to be a balance between sending too many to prison and making sure the public is safe.

Already the commission has determined that improving parole services and educational programs within prison are two ways to reduce the prison population.

The commission will hold a public hearing on Monday in Chicago seeking comment from advocates, policy specialists and people with criminal records.

 on: July 27, 2015, 12:25:14 PM 
Started by smme7 - Last post by smme7
Yea, I noticed that it's not on the website either, but I do know it's still there!
Thanks cjm, I'll recommend that if nothing happens soon. I wonder if they'll let him know he's moving or if they'll just come get him??

 on: July 26, 2015, 10:23:13 PM 
Started by clearchoice - Last post by clearchoice


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 on: July 26, 2015, 09:39:54 PM 
Started by smme7 - Last post by cjm090
Forevermah, yes the work camp there is still in existence. It's right down the road. Just drove by there yesterday on my way to Taylorville and saw the work campers walking back from chow.

Smme7, my husband ended up working with the guy in charge of the counselors for his transfer. I think his last name was something like Trevorbaugh. He first met him when he came to the dorms but after that he would put in a slip to talk to him directly. Maybe he can talk to him if his counselor isn't helping.

 on: July 26, 2015, 07:45:06 PM 
Started by rainbowmama - Last post by rainbowmama
Thank you. It's good to know I've done everything I really can do. The rest is up to him and I don't want to do anything for him that he can do for himself.

 on: July 26, 2015, 05:38:29 PM 
Started by rainbowmama - Last post by Forevermah
He will be evaluated while in R&C for everything and I am sure he will tell them of his medical necessities.  They will decide on where to send him after that and when a bed opens up at the prison of their choice he will be moved.

You can call, but without his medical power of attorney, they probably won't talk to you about anything concerning his medical condition. 

I hope all goes well for him and he gets the medical help he needs.

Welcome to IPT!

 on: July 26, 2015, 05:32:00 PM 
Started by Gizgirl2 - Last post by Forevermah

This topic is for UPDATES on the LD only!

Thank You.

 on: July 26, 2015, 05:31:25 PM 
Started by Gizgirl2 - Last post by Forevermah
Hello there, and pardon me if I'm not posting to the right area.  I heard from my loved on on Tuesday after the lockdown, a brief call since I was at work at the time.  He was supposed to call on Thursday, and his calls are like clockwork.  It's now Sunday and I've heard nothing.  The logical thinker in me thinks the phones have been especially busy or some other reasonable issue, but has anyone heard anything?  Could they have gone back on lockdown?  I just wanted to know if others are having any difficulty connecting with their loved ones.  Thank you so much!

There is a post before yours that said they heard from their LO by phone, so they are able to use the phones in some houses and I am sure at some point everyone will be able to call.

 on: July 26, 2015, 05:12:54 PM 
Started by rainbowmama - Last post by rainbowmama
I have been reading a lot and have talked to a couple of friends of my LO's from rehab... everyone seems to say that people get sent wherever there is a bed and that's pretty much it. The friends who have been through Stateville said no one there cares about health issues or anything. I am wondering how true is this? My man has MS and has expensive monthly infusions. He has lesions in his brain from the MS as well as a benign tumor, which requires an MRI at least once a year, though I think his neurologists were recommending twice a year. He also needs blood work and the county jail missed his appointment in June (though they did well other than that). He also is an addict (meth is his drug of choice) and has mental health issues. Does this make it more likely he will get sent to certain places or does it truly come down to wherever there is a space?

I did write a letter to the Stateville warden because I promised him I would. His infusions for MS have a rare, but very serious, side effect and he is quite worried about that since it could mean death or very serious disability. Should I be calling his counselor up there and giving them information and asking questions or is it not worth it? Is there anything I can do? I figured the letter was useless, but it was worth a shot.

Anyway. Any advice or ideas welcome. <3

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