• dwight 050417SPRINGFIELD – During testimony before a Senate budget committee this week, the acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections said he didn’t know why the former state women’s prison in Dwight had become unfit to serve as a warehouse for state paperwork. He told members of the committee that he would look into it and get back to them.

    The Rauner administration recently moved the paperwork out of Dwight to a former furniture store in Springfield. The deal cost taxpayers $2.4 million.

    Today, through news reports, the prison agency explained that the Illinois Department of Central Management Services is now responsible for the Dwight property.

  • tcullerton 022817 178SPRINGFIELD -- Questions have been raised about why taxpayers are paying $2.4 million for a state lease so state paperwork can be stored at a vacant furniture store in Springfield. The paperwork had been stored at a closed state prison at little to no cost to taxpayers. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration had said the prison building was in disrepair and the paperwork needed to be moved.

    But the state’s prison director told members of an Illinois Senate committee this week that he had no knowledge of this. He said he would try to get some answers.

  • mcguire 050317SPRINGFIELD — Following testimony from the director of the state’s prison system, State Sen. Pat McGuire asked how the Illinois Department of Corrections is fulfilling a court order mandating it provide greater mental health treatment to inmates.

    “Illinois already has spent $17 million on construction work to transform Illinois Youth Center-Joliet from a prison for teens into a mental health facility to provide treatment to 460 adult offenders with serious mental illnesses,” said McGuire, D-Joliet, following the hearing. “But the new Joliet Treatment Center hasn’t opened yet because of the governor’s refusal to compromise on a budget.”

    A federal court ruled last year in Rasho v. Walker that the Illinois prison system must improve services to the roughly 11,000 inmates with serious mental illnesses. As part of the department’s efforts to fulfill that mandate, IDOC has committed to opening up five new treatment centers, including the former IYC-Joliet. While IDOC’s legal counsel testified that fulfilling the mandate is dependent on when the state passes a budget, McGuire said leaving inmates untreated creates a dangerous situation.

    “IDOC Director John Baldwin is sincere about treating offenders with serious mental illness, and I support him. My fear is that no budget means no treatment. That would mean these offenders grow sicker, leading to more incidents involving other offenders and prison personnel, and more risks to our communities when those offenders have served their time. I urge the governor to govern and settle on a budget,” McGuire said. “Our duty is clear. Every day we delay opening these treatment facilities puts inmates and officers at risk.”

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  • Sen. Dave KoehlerSPRINGFIELD – A new Department of Corrections facility would help women who have been incarcerated return to their communities under legislation being considered at the Senate.

    The facility, known as the Peoria Women’s Community Transformation Center, will provide housing, case management, social and educational services, hands-on training in construction skills and other types of vocational training, plus a pool of jobs created through the work of the Community Transformation Institute and its partners.

  • biss 040517SPRINGFIELD – The Rauner administration’s sudden move to halt its drive to privatize the jobs of 124 unionized prison nurses shouldn’t offer sense of comfort to those whose jobs are on the line, state Senator Daniel Biss said Thursday.

    Biss, an Evanston Democrat, noted that Gov. Bruce Rauner reverted to his anti-union rhetoric earlier this month when he said nobody would miss state workers should they choose to go on strike. Previously the governor had expressed support for state workers and ensuring they continue to be paid during the state budget stalemate.

    “The Rauner administration did the right thing by putting the brakes on its plan to outsource these prison nurse jobs, but I remain wary of the governor’s motives, particularly given his inconsistent and recently strident anti-union statements. I wouldn’t blame any of these nurses if they aren’t ready to breathe a sigh of relief just yet.”

    Biss voted for legislation that would have stopped the administration’s plan to lay off the nurses currently employed by the state in prisons and privatize their jobs with an out-of-state corporation. The administration said the laid-off nurses would have an opportunity to reapply for their positions with the corporation, presumably at lower salaries.

    The legislation passed in both houses of the Legislature and made it to the governor’s desk.

    The administration intends to reverse its plan to lay off the nurses and continue contract negotiations with them instead, it was announced this morning.

  • manar nursesSPRINGFIELD – Prison nurses in communities around the state will get at least a temporary reprieve from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to privatize their jobs, thanks to attention brought to their plight by two central Illinois senators.

    “This whiplash approach to governing is giving a lot of people a headache,” said Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). “It’s never too late to do the right thing, but this entire situation, all the turmoil and stress for these workers and their families could have been – and should have been – avoided if the Rauner administration simply did a better job at running the state.”

  • Senator Andy ManarSPRINGFIELD – Bipartisan legislation that would allow 124 Illinois prison nurses to breathe a sigh of relief about their future landed on the governor’s desk today, and two central Illinois senators who sponsored the measure are urging him to rethink his position on privatizing prison jobs.

    “There is no evidence that outsourcing these jobs, as Gov. Rauner proposed, will save money. You can’t just look at one side of the ledger and claim you’re driving a bargain for taxpayers,” said Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat and a sponsor of Senate Bill 19, which would protect the jobs of 322 state employees who work for the Illinois Department of Corrections as nurses, medical technicians and mental health professionals.

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  • hunter 040716CHICAGO – State Senator Mattie Hunter passed legislation in the Illinois Senate to extend the time former offenders have to restore their lives.

    "People who have served time and corrected their wrongs shouldn't have only a month to restart their lives. This bill makes it easier for people to get back on their feet," said Hunter (D-Chicago).

    Many formerly convicted residents face a short 30-day window to find housing, transportation and employment. Former convictions often can lock people out of housing and job opportunities.

    Under current law, the timing requirements for former offenders who have successfully completed probation under the statue is very tight.

    Senate Bill 2601 extends the 30-day timeframe to 60 days following a successful discharge from probation.

    The measure does not expand eligibility for the designated program nor does it reduce requirements for vacation of conviction.

    Hunter also co-sponsored Senate Bill 2465, which repeals Illinois’ requirement for former offenders to reimburse the Department of Corrections for expenses they incurred during their incarceration.

    In 2014, Hunter created a law that gave law-abiding former offenders the opportunity to ask courts to seal the records of minor offenses that happened over three years ago.

    "We should not let people's past mistakes ruin their chances for gainful employment. When former offenders can't find a legal means to support themselves, they turn to crime," said Hunter when her 2014 bill became law.

    Senate Bill 2601 passed the Senate 52-0 and is now in the House for further consideration.

  • biss 040616Legislation designed to help inmates emerge from prison with the means to get back on their feet passed out of the Illinois Senate Tuesday.

    Senate Bill 2465, sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) would prohibit the Illinois Department of Corrections from suing current and former inmates to recoup the cost of their room and board while in prison. The legislation passed by a vote of 32-19 in the Senate. It now goes to the Illinois House for consideration.

    “This is a dangerous practice that can make it almost impossible for people who have paid their debt to society be able to get back on their feet, find housing and seek employment,” Biss said.

    Illinois has had a law allowing the state to sue inmates since 1982, but it was rarely used until recently. According to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, there were two such lawsuits in 2012 and two in 2013, but the number jumped to 13 in 2015.

    Illinois has discretion in determining which current and former inmates to sue. Most are poor. In some cases the state sued them after learning they had received modest inheritances or settlements from civil lawsuit involving private matters or regarding their arrest or incarceration.

    The state has recovered about a half-million dollars since 2010, but most of it was from two inmates.

    Biss noted that the return is not worth the state’s investment in these expensive lawsuits, particularly when the costs of recidivism and reliance on taxpayer-funded programs, such as food stamps or housing assistance, are factored in.

    “It’s not as though most of them are millionaires. We’re talking mainly about people with relatively modest inheritances or court settlements that the state is going after,” Biss said.

    “While it’s appropriate to assign financial penalties along with sentencing for certain types of crimes, the question is whether we want to rely on ad hoc lawsuits as a way to pay for the cost of prisons. It’s not consistent with how government should work, nor is it in keeping with the principles of criminal justice and the idea of second chances.”

  • biss oped0216A proposal by Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) to prohibit the state of Illinois from suing inmates for the cost of their incarceration passed out of committee unanimously this morning.

    The legislation, Senate Bill 2465, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

    The bill calls for an end to the Illinois Department of Corrections practice of suing inmates and parolees to recoup the cost of their room and board while in prison.

    “This legislation rights a wrong that is being inflicted upon a segment of Illinois’ population that tends to be overlooked or ignored,” Biss said. “I look forward to full passage of Senate Bill 2465.”

    Most of the inmates targeted by the state’s lawsuits are poor. In some cases the state sued them after learning they had received modest inheritances or settlements from civil lawsuit involving private matters or regarding their arrest or incarceration.

    Read more about the issue.

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