The John Howard Association (JHA) is the only organization in Illinois -- and one of a very few in the country -- that monitors its state's prison conditions.
This year, we visited almost 30 adult and juvenile prisons, communicated with thousands of inmates and their families, and met with dozens of prison administrators and government officials.
Based on our work, we compiled a top-ten list of things Illinois citizens should know about the state's juvenile and adult prison systems in 2011.
1. Illinois' adult prisons are overcrowded
Although Illinois' adult prison system has long exceeded its design capacity of 33,663 inmates, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) reached more than 49,000 for the first time in 2011. This surge in the state's population is largely due to Governor Pat Quinn's 2009 suspension of Meritorious Good Time, a 30-year-old, statutory-based program that allowed inmates to earn time off their sentences. JHA observed the most overcrowded conditions in the state's minimum-security prisons, such as Vandalia and Vienna Correctional Centers.
2. Prison closures averted -- for now
In late November, Governor Quinn announced that his administration had reached a deal with the legislature to keep open seven state facilities he had threaten to close due to a significant budget shortfall. On Quinn's proposed list were two correctional institutions: IYC-Murphysboro, a minimum-security boys' facility with a population of approximately 60 youths, and Logan Correctional Center, a medium-security adult prison with a population of almost 2,000 men. As Illinois' budget remains deep in the red, we are likely to hear more about possible closures in 2012.
3. Prison is expensive
In fiscal year 2011, Illinois spent more than $1.3 billion on its adult prison system and $154 million on its juvenile prison system. An adult inmate costs taxpayers more than $20 thousand a year, while an incarcerated youth costs almost $90 thousand.
4. Adult Redeploy comes to Cook County
In the fall, Cook County agreed to start a state-funded alternative-to-incarceration program for probation violators. The program will be created through Adult Redeploy Illinois, a state initiative that pays for programs to divert low-level, non-violent offenders from the prison system. Cook County will be the tenth Adult Redeploy pilot site. Adult Redeploy supports other diversion programs throughout Illinois including drug and mental health courts.
5. JHA's reporting found lack of oversight in DJJ
In 2006, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) was created as a separate agency with a mission to treat and rehabilitate incarcerated youth. While DJJ has made significant progress in five years, JHA found in its year-end report that the agency needs stronger oversight in its facilities to ensure accountability and implementation of policy.
6. Godinez named director of DOC
In May, Salvador "Tony" Godinez became the Director of the DOC. A more-than-30-year corrections veteran, Godinez grew up in Chicago and is the first Latino to head Illinois' adult prison system.
7. DJJ installs safety beds in its facilities
Following a JHA critical report, DJJ began installing suicide-proof safety beds throughout its facilities. In 2009, a youth in IYC-St. Charles used an old bed to kill himself. By replacing the old beds, DJJ is taking an important step to prevent such tragedies in the future.
8. Illinois gets to work on reducing its prison population
In 2009, the Illinois Crime Reduction Act created the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council (SPAC) to "draw on criminal justice information collected by other agencies to explore sentencing issues and practices and how they impact the criminal justice system as a whole." In 2011, SPAC began to analyze the causes of Illinois' growing prison population. This analysis will be invaluable to find smart, safe, and cost-effective ways to reduce overcrowding in the state's prison system.
9. New Aftercare Program for Cook County
In 2011, DJJ started its Pilot Aftercare Program in Cook County. This program is designed to replace Parole Division's supervision of recently released youth. The goal of Aftercare is to help youth return to their communities and to provide them with rehabilitation and links to needed services.
10. DJJ creates its first step-down facility
DJJ turned IYC-Pere Marquette, which was previously a minimum-security girls facility, into a boys "step-down" facility, the first of its kind in DJJ. The facility will help boys prepare for release through education and re-entry programs. This is an important step for DJJ as it works to fulfill its mission of helping incarcerated youth successfully re-enter society.