Two Illinois prisons to close

From: Beloit Daily News
June 20, 2012

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn revealed Tuesday that he is closing state prisons in Tamms and Dwight even though the budget sent to him by legislators includes money to maintain the prisons and the hundreds of jobs they create.

The administration also said it will close halfway houses in Carbondale, Chicago and Decatur, along with youth prisons in Murphysboro and Joliet.

Tamms, in far southern Illinois, is home to a “supermax” prison that houses the most dangerous inmates and employees about 300 people. The Dwight facility is a women’s prison in north-central Illinois with 350 employees. Together they house about 1,400 inmates.

Closing them will mean squeezing more inmates into the remaining prisons, which are already seriously overcrowded. The system now houses about 14,000 more inmates than it was designed to hold.

Word of the governor’s decision came in the form of a memo to state employees letting them know they would soon get information on how layoffs will be handled.

Later, Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft released a statement saying the Tamms prison is only half-full and far more expensive than other facilities. Dwight is close to several other prisons, she said.
“Overall, these closures will allow the state to better live within our means and address the state’s most pressing needs,” Kraft said.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a Republican, warned that the move could jeopardize safety. “Overcrowded prisons pose a real danger to employees and local communities,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, was clearly angry that his region stands to lose a prison, a halfway house and a youth camp.

“The governor says he’s a jobs governor. I don’t know if I can believe that anymore when he’s cutting 500 jobs in southern Illinois,” Phelps said.

Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, said much the same about closing Dwight, calling it “reckless.”
Most of the closures will take effect Aug. 31. The Joliet youth camp will stay open until Oct. 31.

Quinn’s decision “elated” activists with Tamms Year Ten, a volunteer campaign to reform or close the supermax prison. Tamms inmates are kept isolated in their cells 23 hours a day for years at a time, a practice that some view as cruel and harmful for the prisoners.

Organizer Laurie Jo Reynolds said the prisoners’ “family members, especially the mothers, are relieved and grateful that the long nightmare at Tamms has ended.”

Read the rest here: http://www.beloitdailynews.com/news/two-illinois-prisons-to-close/article_88bc9780-baf5-11e1-b7bc-001a4bcf887a.html

Tamms Year Ten

From Tamms Year Ten (May 2012):

Governor Quinn has proposed the closure of Tamms supermax prison. Shutting down the supermax would not only relieve the suffering of hundreds of men and their families, but it would be a huge symbol to the rest of the country that the use of the supermax trend was a historic wrong turn and should become a thing of the past. Now is the time to volunteer with Tamms Year Ten!

At Tamms supermax prison, every man is held in permanent solitary confinement. It was designed to impose the most extreme deprivation. Men never leave their cells except to shower or to exercise alone in a concrete pen. There are no communal activities, jobs or contact visits. Many men have serious mental illness.

Tamms Year Ten is a coalition of prisoners, ex-prisoners, families, attorneys and other concerned citizens who came together, after ten years of misguided and inhumane policies, to call for legislative oversight at Tamms. When the prison opened in 1998, prisoners were told they would be housed at Tamms for one year. When we launched Tamms Year Ten in 2008, one-third of the prisoners had been warehoused there over a decade. Our goal is to end the use of long-term isolation at Tamms. Please help us end psychological torture in Illinois.

ORGANIZE • STRATEGIZE • ADVOCATE
JOIN TY10

Report: Too many juveniles go back to prison

From: NorthWest Herald
Dec 25, 2011
By SARAH SUTSCHEK

More than half of young offenders in Illinois’ youth prisons are back within three years of their release, according to a new report.

The system intended to help imprisoned juveniles get back into their communities for more rehabilitation is broken, but not beyond repair, according to the study by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.

During a six-month period, 54 percent of the 386 youths whose parole was revoked were sent back to prison for technicalities such as truancy and curfew violations.

Other findings include the fact that youths are systematically deprived of their constitutional rights in decisions regarding parole revocations.

The report recommends that judges preside over parole revocation hearings, rather than prisoner review boards.

Young offenders also typically stay on parole until their 21st birthdays, increasing the likelihood of returning to custody. The report recommends that the length of parole should be limited. Plus, parole officers handle both adults and youth with caseloads averaging 100, but have no special training for dealing with young people. Rarely do they refer young parolees to programs that could help them with jobs, substance abuse or mental health issues.

“You have officers who are overworked and who don’t have adequate training,” said commission chairman George Timberlake, retired chief justice of the 2nd Circuit Court. “It’s easy to say, ‘It’s a violation. I’m writing it up,’ and the kid goes back inside the prison.”

Statewide, there are more than 1,000 young people in custody in eight prisons with an additional 1,600 on parole.

Locally, between seven to 12 kids are sent to juvenile prisons from McHenry County each year, said James J. Edwards, who heads the juvenile division of Court Services. The average number of juveniles in detention centers also is low, hovering around five or six youths a day.

“When you look at a county our size, historically we have a low percentage of kids who ever end up in the Department of Juvenile Justice,” said Phil Dailing, director of Court Services. “We don’t contribute a lot to this problem.”

The burden is on county officials, when appropriate, to find alternatives rather than send young people to prison, Dailing said.

Read the rest here.

Further reading:

The Report of the IL Juvenile Justice Commission (PDF)

Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission: Broken Parole System Traps Young Offenders (Huffington Post, 14 dec 2011)

Illinois Inmate Says Years of Solitary Confinement Caused Mental Illness, Self-Mutilation

Reblogged from: SolitaryWatch
Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
Sept 2nd 2011

“Dear America” wrote Anthony Gay, who is being held in solitary confinement in Tamms supermax prison in Illinois, “It is like this place is designed to psychologically kill you. How could America be so cruel to its own people?… Is there a need to psychologically kill prisoners?” In Gay’s case, his lawyers claim, a seven-year term in isolation has damaged their client’s psyche to the point that he routinely mutilates himself, and at one point cut off one of his testicles and hung it from a string on his cell door. Originally sentenced to seven years for assault, Gay is now serving 99 years for throwing urine and feces at guards from his isolatoin cell.

The story of Anthony Gay, which appeared earlier this week in southwest Illinois’s Belleville News-Democrat, reads like a primer on what is wrong with solitary confinement, including how it drives prisoners mad, and how it can turn a relatively brief prison stint into an effective life sentence. It also documents a novel attempt by Gay’s lawyers to apply a recent Supreme Court ruling to the case of a prisoner suffering mental breakdown as a result of prolonged isolation. The story was written by George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer, whose award-winning 2010 investigative series “Trapped in Tamms” exposed the suffering of prisoners–especially prisoners with mental illness–in the Illinois state supermax. Read the full story on BND’s site, or here

Underwear Shortage In Illinois Prisons: Latest Sign Of State’s Financial Woes

Huffington Post:
June 29th 2011

Illinois’ budget crisis is not news to anyone, and as politicians in Springfield argue about what to cut, the budgetary woes have begun to spill over into some somewhat unusual and unexpected areas.
In Taylorville, Illinois–there’s an underwear shortage.

According to the Bloomington Pantagraph, inmates at the central Illinois prison are being forced to wear the same pair of underwear for several days in a row because the jail cannot afford more undergarments. A prison watchdog group suspects the Taylorville facility may not be alone.

A report issued by the John Howard Association shows that inmates in the prison are wearing dirty and threadbare clothes that are only being washed twice a week, raising “serious hygiene concerns.” Several inmates reported much of the original clothing they received to wear — three pairs of pants, three shirts, one jacket, one hat, two pairs of boxers and two pairs of socks — are already used, soiled or in otherwise poor condition when they receive them.

The group is calling for the state Department of Corrections to remedy the situation and provide sufficient clothing for its inmates, in addition to looking at other issues — like overcrowding and a lack of in-facility educational programs. They say such programs can reduce the rate of recidivism.

Read the rest here.

Salvador “Tony” Godinez to lead the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC)

From: Capitol Fax:
Monday, Apr 25, 2011

Well, so much for breaking this news to subscribers tomorrow morning. From a press release…

Pat Quinn today announced three top appointments to his executive cabinet. Today’s actions are the latest in a series of appointments Governor Quinn is making as he continues to fulfill his commitment to creating jobs, fostering economic development and increasing efficiency and accountability in all areas of state government.

Governor Quinn today named Salvador “Tony” Godinez to lead the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). Acting Director Gladyse Taylor will return to her previous position as assistant director. The Governor also re-appointed Warren Ribley as director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and Major General William Enyart as Illinois’ Adjutant General, directing the state’s Department of Military Affairs.

“Tony Godinez, Warren Ribley and General William Enyart have devoted their careers to public service, and the people of Illinois will benefit from their wealth of knowledge and experience,” said Governor Quinn. “I thank Gladyse Taylor for her dedication and leadership and look forward to her continued work on behalf of the people of Illinois.”

Currently the executive director of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department of Corrections, Godinez has spent 37 years working in the correctional system, including as warden of Stateville Correctional Center, as well as chief of operations and chief of staff at IDOC.

Previously, Godinez also served as warden of Ely State Prison, a maximum security facility in Ely, Nevada, and as a corrections administrator in Michigan, Delaware, Louisiana and Puerto Rico. A graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago and Chicago State University, Godinez has participated in professional associations related to anti-violence and corrections policy nationwide.

Read the rest here.

– Posted by Rich Miller to the Capitol Fax blog

Executing Justice in Illinois.

Congratulations Illinois, for evolving into the 21st century ahead of the rest of us (I’m writing from Arizona – the Deep Southwest). Thanks to all the good souls who weighed in for this fight. I personally think the issue of accuracy when executing people IS an issue of morality, and that the entire criminal justice system should be taking a second look at the problem of wrongful conviction, not just the death penalty.

Prosecutorial and police misconduct were the real reasons for the demise of capital punishment in Illinois. That’s pathetic – and all too common. The US has been imprisoning and executing innocent people for a long time; the folks responsible for locking us away know it and have done little about assuring real justice – evidence that their arrest and conviction rates are far more important than victims’ lives really are. That’s pretty gutless for a crowd that prides itself on fighting crime.

Many in law enforcement and the judiciary stood in the way of abolishing the Illinois death penalty, of course, and are whining about it tonight. Never mind the few innocent folks who might be murdered by the state – or the guilty who got off scott free – they just didn’t want to lose the leverage it gave them to coerce plea deals out of whatever defendants they managed to pin charges on – preferably the very same ones they accused in sensational cases in the media in the first place. They sure don’t want to admit they may have ever made a mistake, either – those cases should never have to depend on resolution from the same people who screwed them up in the first place.

That should be a red flag to us all: any judge or prosecutor who insists that the justice system is always right can’t be trusted by the rest of us – they’re either oblivious or corrupt. In either case, they’re not only failing to protect victims by getting the wrong bad guys and not making it right, they’re creating a whole new class of victims. Incarceration alone is violence, so we’d better get it right if we’re going to isolate, shame, exile and brutalize those we punish in America – particularly if we plan to execute them on top of it…

—————from the Chicago Tribune—————–

What killed Illinois’ death penalty

It wasn’t the question of morality but the question of accuracy that led state to abolish capital punishment

By Steve Mills, Tribune reporter

9:15 PM CST, March 9, 2011

If there was one moment when Illinois’ death penalty began to die, it was on Feb. 5, 1999, when a man named Anthony Porter walked out of jail a free man.

Sitting in the governor’s mansion, George Ryan watched Porter’s release on television and wondered how a man could come within 50 hours of being executed, only to be set free by the efforts of a journalism professor, his students and a private investigator.

“And so I turned to my wife, and I said, how the hell does that happen? How does an innocent man sit on death row for 15 years and gets no relief,” Ryan recalled last year. “And that piqued my interest, Anthony Porter.”

To be sure, by the time Porter was set free, the foundation of Illinois’ death penalty system already had begun to erode by the steady stream of inmates who had death sentences or murder convictions vacated: Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez in the Jeanine Nicarico case, the men known as the Ford Heights Four, Gary Gauger.

But for decades, the debate over capital punishment rarely strayed from whether it was right or wrong, a moral argument that was waged mostly by a narrow group of attorneys and abolition supporters that could be easily dismissed. Public opinion polls showed little movement. Death sentences and executions hit record levels.

Inmates like the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, whose guilt was never in question, were put to death and caused little controversy. But when a miscarriage of justice was discovered and a death row inmate was set free, the police and prosecutors contended that it was an isolated incident, an anomaly. They got little argument.

In November 1998, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University hosted 29 exonerated death row inmates at a conference, putting a human face to the death penalty’s errors. Then, with Porter’s case still in the spotlight, plus a series of stories in the Chicago Tribune later that year that illuminated deep frailties in the state’s system of capital punishment, the debate over the death penalty was transformed.

Suddenly, it was about accuracy. No longer were the mistakes anecdotal. The problems were systemic.

Opposition to the death penalty began to win new supporters, people who looked at the issue pragmatically, not just morally, and were dismayed by the mistakes. Politicians no longer saw the issue as a third rail with voters. Ryan, who declared a halt to all executions in 2000, found it did not cost him politically.

A decade after Ryan declared a moratorium, 61 percent of voters questioned in a poll did not even know the state still had a death penalty, reflecting a stalemate of sorts that had emerged between supporters of abolition and those who wanted to bring back capital punishment. No one was being put to death, yet death row again was receiving inmates, though at a slower pace than before the Ryan moratorium.

Had Republican Bill Brady won the November general election instead of Democrat Pat Quinn, the state still would have a death penalty, and the new governor almost certainly would have lifted the moratorium and allowed executions to resume.

Ultimately, supporters of abolition in the General Assembly — frustrated that sufficient reform had not been enacted and stung by the costs of trials and appeals — voted to abolish the death penalty. On Wednesday, Quinn signed abolition into law and commuted the sentences of 15 inmates who had been sentenced to death since the moratorium.

“That isolated image of Anthony Porter is crucial,” said Lawrence Marshall, a former legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and a key player in the abolition of the death penalty. “But it only makes a difference when it comes amidst all of those other incidents. It shows (the problems weren’t) isolated. This was a trend.”

With Quinn’s signature, Illinois became the fourth state to abandon the death penalty over the last decade, and the isolation of the use of capital punishment, mostly in the South, is a national trend, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

The New Jersey Legislature voted to drop the death penalty in 2007. A New York appeals court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 2004. And in 2009, the New Mexico Legislature voted to repeal capital punishment; Gov. Bill Richardson signed the bill into law.

Other states have convened panels to study the death penalty and have considered legislation to end it, prompted by the exonerations of condemned inmates; capital punishment’s high cost, particularly in a down economy; and the widening support for life in prison without parole as an alternative sentence, Dieter said.

“The life-without-parole option is not going away,” Dieter said last week. “People have a lot of lingering doubts about the possibility of a person being wrongly convicted. They are willing to convict them, but when it comes to the death sentence, they want to be doubly sure of their guilt, even more than the system requires.”

Between Porter’s release and Quinn’s signing of the abolition bill, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the use of the death penalty, saying the mentally disabled and those who commit their crimes as juveniles cannot be executed.

The number of death sentences dropped. The number of executions dropped. Even cases thought to be death penalty slam dunks offered surprises that suggested the death penalty was in decline. James Degorski and Juan Luna, the two men convicted in the murders of seven people in January 1993 at a Brown’s Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine, also were spared the ultimate punishment.

Luna, convicted in 2007, and Degorski, convicted in 2009, were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Even Andre Crawford, convicted of 11 brutal murders on the South Side that made him one of the area’s most prolific serial killers, escaped the death penalty in 2009 when he was given life in prison without parole.

While some observers saw those sentences as signs the death penalty was withering, the truth may have been more complicated. In the Brown’s Chicken cases, the two juries voted 11-1 for death. Crawford’s jury voted 10-2 for death, said the prosecutor in the case, James McKay, chief of the capital litigation task force for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

That, he said, was evidence jurors still were receptive to the death penalty but were stymied by holdouts.

“It tells me that our jurors overwhelmingly want the death penalty,” said McKay, a veteran prosecutor.

What’s more, he said, the future without the death penalty may prove more costly than with it.

“These murder trials don’t go away just because the death penalty won’t be a sentencing option,” McKay said. “With the death penalty off the table, there’ll be even more trials. There’ll be no incentive to plead guilty. I do not believe for one second that taking the death penalty off the table will save the state of Illinois any money whatsoever.”

With no death penalty, Illinois’ last execution — its 12th since capital punishment was reinstated in the mid-1970s — will remain that of Andrew Kokoraleis, who was put to death by lethal injection in March 1999, while Ryan was governor, for the mutilation murder of an Elmhurst woman.

And while many people believe Illinois never executed an innocent man, others disagree. The 1995 execution of Girvies Davis for a downstate murder was long controversial and relied heavily on a disputed confession, one the police got when they took him out of jail in the middle of the night and, according to Davis, threatened him.

In fact, Davis confessed to numerous crimes that night and, authorities later acknowledged, many of the confessions were false, with other people later convicted of those crimes. On the other hand, Davis admitted to taking part in other crimes that led to the deaths of innocent people, though he insisted he never killed anybody himself.

One of Davis’ attorneys once wrote in an essay in the Tribune that “nothing short of finding the real murderer would have saved Davis’ life.” So it is that the execution still haunts the lawyer, David Schwartz. He called the death penalty’s end, nearly 16 years after Davis was put to death by lethal injection, “bittersweet.”

“It bothers me when I hear people say that the state of Illinois never executed a person for a crime they did not commit,” Schwartz said. “Because they did with Girvies Davis.”

Tribune reporter Dahleen Glanton contributed.