Illinois Prisons


A controversial holding cell at an Illinois women’s prison is still being used, over one year after the head of corrections vowed to take it down. 

Guards and inmates at Logan Correctional Center in central Illinois call it the “crisis cage.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections says it’s 8 feet tall and 7 and a half feet wide.

It’s used when guards believe a woman is at risk of harming herself or others.

Former prisoners say it’s barbaric and inhumane. Even the head of the Illinois Department of Corrections says it’s a problem.

Max Green / Illinois Public Radio


The Rockford native committed a sex crime, and in order to get out of prison he has to meet the state’s long list of rigid parole requirements for those convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault. He could remain behind bars for the rest of his life if he doesn’t find appropriate housing. For Lindenmeier, that means finding a place to live where, among other things, he is away from children and has no internet-accessible devices like smartphones and smart TVs.

A new law will allow people leaving Illinois prisons to get a copy of their birth certificate for free.

It’s meant to make it easier for former prisoners to get a state ID - which is necessary to apply for things like jobs and housing.

Former inmate David Ikonomopoulos says his driver’s license never made it from the police department that arrested him to the state prison where he served his sentence.

AP Photo

Governor Bruce Rauner wants a private employer to take over 120 nursing jobs from state prisons. But the Illinois Senate passed legislation that would block the plan on Wed.

Any day now, Governor Bruce Rauner's criminal justice reform commission is expected to release its final set of recommendations. It's trying to figure out how to safely reduce Illinois' prison population by 25% over the next decade.

In an era of political gridlock, one of the few topics on which there's been hope of bipartisan cooperation is on the issues of crime and punishment.

Politicians have traditionally been averse to doing anything that could get them painted as being "soft on crime."

It's an easy attack, and one that's been frequently deployed in the past. But this year, criminal justice reform advocates are fighting back.

Illinois prison data shows that the state's population of inmates has dropped by more than 4,200 since fiscal year 2014.  Illinois Department of Corrections numbers show that the total prison population in the state was 44,680 as of July 1. That's down from 47,165 in June 2015 and 48,921 in June 2014. 

In January, the Illinois prison population was down by more than 2,500 inmates over a year earlier. But that’s still a long way off from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s goal of cutting the population by 12,000 prisoners over the next decade.

The commission he appointed to make that happen is still figuring out how to meet his goal, and met Monday in Chicago to continue deliberations.

mikecogh / Peoria Public Radio

A pair of Illinois lawmakers are trying to stop the state from suing former prisoners to pay for their own incarceration. 

Right now, the state of Illinois sues about 10 former inmates a year.

"It’s morally repugnant, it’s just, it’s wrong," State Representative Kelly Cassidy said.

Cassidy is sponsoring a new bill to prohibit the Illinois Department of Corrections from trying to get money from former inmates.

"It’s also counterproductive. We know any barrier to re-entry is a path to recidivism," Cassidy said. 

Brian Mackey/Illinois Public Radio

Governor Bruce Rauner says he’ll work to implement the recommendations of his criminal justice commission.
He stopped by a meeting today, as commissioners were debating how to address the fact that African Americans are far more likely to be arrested and go to prison than other racial groups.

Lawsuit challenges solitary confinement in Illinois prisons

Jun 24, 2015

A federal lawsuit alleges that the Illinois Department of Corrections use of solitary confinement is “cruel, inhumane and offensive to basic human decency.”
The complaint says about 23 hundred people in Illinois prisons are in solitary on any given day. And that many of those people are there for very minor infractions.

Brian Nelson spent 23 years in solitary. He says almost everyone he knows who has survived the experience.. struggles with mental health.

Illinois needs a new prison chief

May 26, 2015

Criminal justice advocates say Illinois’ next prison chief needs to be dedicated to reducing the prison population.

Prison healthcare fails inmates

May 20, 2015

A newly released report says healthcare in Illinois prisons is failing to meet minimal constitutional standards.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union says solitary confinement for juveniles is essentially over in Illinois. A federal judge recently signed off on an agreement between the A-C-L-U and the Department of Juvenile Justice. It bans use of solitary for punishment, and mandates that all youth get eight hours a day outside of their cells.


Illinois Department of Corrections officials say they still don’t know when they will have enough beds to care for prisoners with mental illnesses. Illinois Public Radio’s Patrick Smith reports. 

The prison system has been in a legal battle over mental health care since 2007.

Late last year the state submitted a remedial plan to a federal judge, but prisoners suing say the department isn’t following it.

In a new court filing, the state says it still doesn’t know when all 12 hundred beds required will be added.

Shakespeare Corrected: Opening Night In Decatur

May 1, 2015
Jeff Bossert / WILL

Back in February, Illinois Public Media first visted with some of the women involved in the spring production of Macbeth at the Decatur Women’s Correctional Facility.  This past weekend, they wrapped up their 6-performance run at the prison, including one show for friends and family. 

The first performance a week ago Wednesday was a final dress rehearsal, but good enough to start performing in front of offenders.  About 65 other inmates filled the prison’s auditorium.

Prison reform commission to hold inaugural meeting

Mar 26, 2015
Ogrebot, Wikipedia

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s prison reform commission has its very first meeting today. Rauner has tasked the group with finding a way to cut the state’s prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years.

John Maki  is one of the members.

"This commission is different and this commission is important because we’ve had this goal. No governor has been willing to say this is what I want. So Illinois is really … we’re gonna lead here."

State records show at least five Illinois prisons don't appear to have enough money to pay workers through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Rauner fights prison crowding

Feb 11, 2015

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is doubling down on his pledge to cut the state’s prison population by 25 percent.  Today, Rauner signed an executive order creating a commission tasked with finding ways to trim more than 12 thousand prisoners from the rolls in the next 10 years.  

It's costing Illinois as much as $25 million a year to keep inmates in prison because they can't find a suitable place to live according to the terms of their parole.

The WHY of IL prison overcrowding

Aug 19, 2014

Cook County’s state’s attorney wants stricter prison sentences for repeated gun offenders. But the county’s top public defender questions that.

Of natural causes: Death in Illinois prisons part 3

Jul 9, 2014

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,” Illinois Public Radio'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.

Illinois prisoner deaths

Jul 7, 2014

Between 80 and a hundred people die each year inside Illinois prisons. Information has been sought about those deaths, but the Department of Corrections under Governor Pat Quinn is taking a “trust us, nothing to see here” attitude.

Illinois prisons are expanding a program to feed some inmates two meals a day instead of three. IPR'S Brian Mackey has more on prisoners eating brunch.

The Illinois Department of Corrections has combined breakfast and lunch at two prisons so far. Spokesman Tom Shaer says this is not a money-saving measure, but it is easier on the staff. In a prison, mealtime means not just preparation, serving and clean-up, but also moving inmates from their housing area to the dining hall. Shaer also says inmates prefer the brunch schedule.

Last week, prison officials in Indiana announced they'd soon add programs for mentally ill inmates, and house them in a special facility. A few days earlier, a report from a prison watchdog group raised concerns about the same kind of inmates in an Illinois prison. IPR’S Brian Mackey has more.

The John Howard Association, a prison-monitoring group, says the demise of our mental health system in recent decades means a lot of people with mental illness end up in prison.

Some Illinois prisoners in for trivial crimes

Mar 25, 2013

The agency that runs Illinois prisons has more inmates than it has room for….Fifty thousand in a system built for 33-thousand. So now the agency— the Illinois Department of Corrections--says it will house more inmates in prison gymnasiums.  Many of the people crowding into the facilities... they’re not all the hardened criminals you see on T.V. As Robert Wildeboer reports, a large number of inmates are there on rather trivial charges.