WBEZ | Troubled Illinois prisons out of public eye http://www.wbez.org/tags/troubled-illinois-prisons-out-public-eye Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Quinn's half-measures on prison openness http://www.wbez.org/news/quinns-half-measures-prison-openness-103540 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS6623_P1050152-scr.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Seven months ago, when I read some concerning reports by the John Howard Association about Illinois&rsquo; prison system, I had no idea I&rsquo;d be spending much of the year simply trying to get into the prisons to report on conditions first hand.</p><p>If you regularly listen to WBEZ or check out this website, then you may be familiar with some of the stories we&rsquo;ve published about inmates living in crowded basements that habitually flood, infestations so severe an inmate had to get a cockroach surgically removed from his ear, and a broken jaw going untreated for eight weeks while the inmate withered away because it was too painful to eat. We thought the public should see and know first hand exactly what&rsquo;s going on, but Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has consistently refused requests for access.</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah, well I don&#39;t believe in that. I think that it&#39;s important that when it comes to the security of our prisons I go with the director that I have at the Department of Corrections. Security comes first and it isn&#39;t a country club,&rdquo; Quinn told reporters earlier this year in Springfield.</p><p>Public officials and citizens called on the governor to let reporters into prisons but Quinn was unresponsive. So over the past several weeks WBEZ has been working with attorneys Jeffrey Colman and Jason Bradford from the law firm of Jenner and Block. They volunteered their time to represent WBEZ to push for access.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve spent a lot of time in prisons and I believe it&rsquo;s extraordinarily important for the public, the taxpayers, to understand what the conditions are in our state prisons, in our federal prisons, at places like Guantanamo,&rdquo; said Colman. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s wrong for government to deny the media and through the media the public the ability to see and hear what things are like in the prisons and what the hundreds and hundreds of millions dollars of taxpayer money are being used to do.&rdquo;</p><p>Colman and Bradford met with attorneys for Governor Quinn and the general counsel for the Department of Corrections. They laid out our concerns and legal arguments.</p><p>&ldquo;We believe that we have valid constitutional claims to be brought and we did indeed threaten to sue the Illinois Department of Corrections because it was denying media representatives access to the Illinois prisons,&rdquo; said Colman.</p><p>After months and months of requests from WBEZ and other media outlets, Gov. Quinn is finally allowing reporters into prisons. It&rsquo;s a step in the right direction but it took the threat of that federal lawsuit, and Quinn&rsquo;s administration continues to throw up roadblocks to meaningful transparency.</p><p>Last Friday the Department of Corrections released a new media policy, though it&rsquo;s disappointingly similar to the old media policy. Basically, it leaves everything to the discretion of the director of the Department of Corrections. But here&rsquo;s the new part: Instead of blocking media visits altogether, the department is now planning to hold a few media tours, including visits to Vienna and Vandalia, prisons WBEZ had earlier been told we couldn&rsquo;t visit because of blanket concerns about safety and security.</p><p>However, the new policy does not allow reporters to take microphones or cameras on the tours, and that is a significant impediment for reporters trying to inform the public about what&rsquo;s going on inside. It means if there&rsquo;s mold or flooding, the public won&rsquo;t be able to see how severe it is or isn&rsquo;t. The public won&rsquo;t know what Building 19 at Vienna looks like when all the windows are boarded up like it&rsquo;s an abandoned building even though it still houses hundreds of inmates. It means the public can&rsquo;t see first hand what it looks like when the ceiling on an entire cell block collapses, requiring 88 men to be moved to a gym where they&rsquo;re forced to share only two toilets.</p><p>I asked the Department of Corrections to explain the prohibition on mics and cameras but they didn&rsquo;t. In an emailed statement a spokeswoman noted that media are permitted to bring a notebook and the department will provide so-called flex pens on tours, which is above and beyond what is permitted on any other tour.</p><p>John Maki with the John Howard Association, a non-partisan prison watchdog group in Illinois, says transparency should be a default position of any government. &ldquo;So, if the Department of Corrections is saying we will not allow &ldquo;X,&rdquo; whether it&rsquo;s a microphone or whatever, they should be able to explain, they should be able to say &#39;this is why,&#39; and if they can&rsquo;t, I think that&rsquo;s a problem,&rdquo; said Maki.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been on the ground in Illinois prisons for a few decades and increasingly it has tightened up,&rdquo; said Carol Marin. She&rsquo;s a reporter with NBC 5 and WTTW in Chicago and a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times and she&rsquo;s reported from dozens of prisons.</p><p>&ldquo;We had a cameraman colleague who used to joke that I would never take him any nice places.&nbsp; I was always going into prisons. We&rsquo;ve been in just about every prison in the state of Illinois, including Menard, which is to hell and gone on the other side of the state,&rdquo; said Marin while sitting at her desk at NBC. She showed me video from a story she did from a prison in the late 1970s where she&rsquo;s chatting with six or eight, maybe more inmates about the importance of gang ties behind bars. In another tape she&rsquo;s interviewing inmates on the cell block and in a shop where they&rsquo;re welding. She says she&rsquo;s taken a camera and microphone all over the prisons and historically that wasn&rsquo;t a problem in Illinois.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m gonna tell you,&rdquo; said Marin, growing increasingly frustrated as she talked about the lack of access to prisons in Illinois these days. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t report on prisons if you can&rsquo;t see them, if you can&rsquo;t talk to inmates, and if you can&rsquo;t bring in a camera, and what the administration, I think, is counting on is that in a day of reduced news budgets, fewer reporters, and the distance that prisons are from Chicago that we won&rsquo;t care or we won&rsquo;t cover it and as a consequence taxpayers won&rsquo;t see it.&rdquo;</p><p>Marin says she thinks that the Department of Corrections also figures that news organizations are suffering from shrinking budgets and are therefore unlikely to sue for access. &ldquo;We are less likely to insist that it is our right and our responsibility to cover public institutions into which millions if not billions of taxpayer dollars go,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>The threat of a lawsuit did push the Illinois Department of Corrections to allow reporters in for guided tours, but the new media policy is long way from maximizing transparency. Instead it seems aimed solely at minimizing the threat of a lawsuit. For months we&rsquo;ve been requesting an interview with Gov. Quinn to discuss the policy decisions being made by the corrections department under him, but his press office has declined.</p><p>Three media tours at state prisons are tentatively scheduled &ndash; one a month - for each of the next three months, but WBEZ&rsquo;s attorney Jeff Colman will be watching and prepared for litigation.&nbsp;&nbsp;&ldquo;Opening the Illinois prisons to media review for the first time in several years is a very positive development but we continue to believe that the Department of Corrections policies and practices -- including this new directive -- violate constitutional guarantees and deprive the public of the meaningful ability to see and hear about conditions in the prisons and what taxpayer monies are being funded to do,&rdquo; he said.</p></p> Wed, 31 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinns-half-measures-prison-openness-103540 Quinn allows limited media tours of prisons but stops short of transparency http://www.wbez.org/quinn-allows-limited-media-tours-prisons-stops-short-transparency-103466 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP04021805731_1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is allowing reporters into prisons but it took the threat of a federal lawsuit from WBEZ, and pressure from other media, and even with the new policy Quinn&rsquo;s administration continues to block meaningful transparency.</p><p>WBEZ has spent months pushing to get into two minimum security prisons in Illinois; Quinn has refused citing safety and security concerns.&nbsp;<br /><br />In recent weeks WBEZ has been working with attorneys Jeffrey Colman and Jason Bradford from the firm Jenner and Block who volunteered their time to sue for access. They met with attorneys for Governor Quinn as well as the Department of Corrections and laid out our concerns and legal claims.<br /><br />The result was a new media policy released late Friday in which the Department of Corrections will host media days when groups of reporters can tour prisons. It&rsquo;s a significant victory and WBEZ will go on the tours, but reporters will not be allowed to record or photograph on those tours. The prohibition on taping severely impedes media&rsquo;s ability to act as a proxy and to meaningfully inform the public about what&rsquo;s happening inside.<br /><br />In an email reacting to the new policy attorney Jeffrey Colman wrote that &ldquo;opening the prisons to media review for the first time in several years is a positive development,&rdquo; but he also wrote, &ldquo;IDOC practices&mdash;including its new directive&mdash;violate constitutional guarantees and deprive the public of the ability to see how its hundreds of millions of dollars of tax money are spent.&rdquo;</p></p> Fri, 26 Oct 2012 21:52:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/quinn-allows-limited-media-tours-prisons-stops-short-transparency-103466 Illinois inmate says he lost 60 pounds when broken jaw was untreated for 8 weeks http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-inmate-says-he-lost-60-pounds-when-broken-jaw-was-untreated-8-weeks-102852 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/clingsmith photo.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>John Maki is having a hard time believing the findings of his own organization&rsquo;s year-long study of health care in Illinois&rsquo; prisons. Maki is the director of the John Howard Association, a non-partisan prison watchdog group in Illinois that just completed a year-long study of health care in state prisons. The study found that last year the State of Illinois signed a 10-year, $1.4 billion contract with Wexford Health Sources, a private company that provides health care, but Maki says no one in Illinois audited the company&rsquo;s previous performance in the state before signing the enormous contract.</p><p>&ldquo;You know it&rsquo;s one of those things, it feels bizarre that it&rsquo;s not out there. It feels like surely someone must have done some kind of audit, right? &nbsp;Kind of like, right?&rdquo; said Maki. &ldquo;That has to be there, and there should be some kind of public account of how this money&rsquo;s being spent and there&rsquo;s not. And again, if the John Howard Association can&rsquo;t find it and this is what we do, then certainly no ordinary citizen is going to find it.&rdquo;</p><p>Maki says he went to the state&rsquo;s auditor general, who said they don&rsquo;t audit private contracts. He asked people at the Department of Corrections, who said the contract was handled by the&nbsp;state&rsquo;s Department of Healthcare and Family Services, but when he went to Health and Family Services they sent him back to IDOC -- the Department of Corrections.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, as a taxpayer I want to know how my tax dollars are spent. In particular, in our prison systems, which are very expensive and which there&rsquo;s very little oversight of, and to me that raises questions about good government,&rdquo; Maki said.</p><p>When I contacted IDOC about Maki&rsquo;s report, a spokeswoman emailed a statement saying Wexford got the highest score of four vendors who competed for the contract. IDOC would not provide anyone to talk to us about that process or even to talk in general terms about the $1.4 billion deal.</p><p>Maki says there&rsquo;s some troubling history that makes the lack of contract oversight even more negligent. Five years ago, Donald Snyder, the former head of the Department of Corrections pleaded guilty to accepting $30,000 in bribes from a Wexford lobbyist.&nbsp;Wexford was never accused of wrongdoing, and in an email a company spokesman said they actively cooperated with the investigation into the bribery scheme. But leaving that history aside, Maki says there are even more immediate questions that need to be asked. &ldquo;Every year, we communicate with about three thousand inmates and their family. &nbsp;By far, the most complaints we hear are about medical care,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><strong>A handwritten federal lawsuit </strong></p><p>Over the past several months I&rsquo;ve been reporting on Illinois prisons and I&rsquo;ve heard lots of complaints about medical care too. One guy, Chris Clingingsmith, told me a story that sounds too ridiculous to be true but the medical records seem to back him up. Clingingsmith is suing the Illinois Department of Corrections in federal court, but he&rsquo;s representing himself and his lawsuit actually looks kind of like a grade school project. There aren&rsquo;t computers in prison and Clingingsmith can&rsquo;t really type anyway so he drew lines on blank paper and then neatly hand-printed out his federal complaint.<br /><br />&ldquo;I just figured that whatever happened to me wasn&rsquo;t right. &nbsp;I decided that I don&rsquo;t think all that fancy jargon on there needs to be involved with legal work. I just write it how it needs to be written and send it,&rdquo; said Clingingsmith.<br /><br />His plainspoken lawsuit reads much better than many of the legal filings I&rsquo;ve seen in my work as a reporter covering courts. Clingingsmith&rsquo;s lawsuit lays out his story of what happened to him in the prison in East Moline, Illinois, where he was doing a seven-year sentence for racking up several DUIs. He was attacked by an inmate and knocked to the ground.<br /><br />&ldquo;I&rsquo;m like on my back and I&rsquo;m blocking his hits and then he kicked me in the ribs and I dropped my arms because it hurt. &nbsp;So when I dropped my arms he raised up and stomped me right in the face with his boot and I kinda went out for a few seconds. &nbsp;It knocked me out, I guess,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />When he was able, Clingingsmith said he went to guards and told them that he had fallen and hit his face on a counter.<br /><br />&ldquo;If you know anything about the gangs and stuff in prison, you don&rsquo;t want a gang after you, especially when you&rsquo;re a non-gang member. &nbsp;I&rsquo;m not affiliated with anything so I wasn&rsquo;t about to go tell the supervisor that this guy whooped me in the kitchen,&rdquo; said Clingingsmith.<br /><br />Clingingsmith says the guards knew the truth about the assault because they had video of it and they sent him to solitary confinement for lying about it. While in segregation he complained about his injuries and asked to see a doctor. &ldquo;I was nauseous, I had migraine headaches, my jaw hurt, I couldn&rsquo;t sleep, I had blood in my urine. I was just a mess,&rdquo; said Clingingsmith.<br /><br />Clingingsmith says when he went to the doctor, the doctor looked at him for just a couple minutes and gave him some aspirin but that was it. He continued to complain and got another appointment a couple days later.<br /><br />&ldquo;They took me back to the doctor this time, and he was kinda being, I don&rsquo;t know a good word for it other than pissy. &nbsp;I told him I got a broken jaw again and he goes, well how do you know you got a broken jaw? &nbsp;Where did you get your medical degree?&rdquo;&quot;</p><p><strong>&quot;You have a broken jaw&quot;</strong></p><p>Clingingsmith was sent back to solitary and several weeks later was transferred to a higher security prison, something he thinks was a punishment for &ldquo;lying&rdquo; about how he was injured, but that punishment ended up being a blessing because a dental assistant took his complaints seriously and took some x-rays.<br /><br />&ldquo;It happened to be where I was sitting in the dentist&rsquo;s chair they have one of those x-ray lights and I&rsquo;m in the chair and she comes back with the x-rays and she slides it into that light thing and she leans over and I lean over and we&rsquo;re both looking at it together and she goes, &#39;Oh my gosh. You have a broken jaw.&#39; and I said, &lsquo;I know,&rsquo; and she goes, &lsquo;That&rsquo;s ridiculous,&rsquo;&rdquo; Clingingsmith recounts.<br /><br />At that point Clingingsmith got good care but it was drastic, requiring his face to be cut open. He says the doctor used a hammer to rebreak his jaw and then put titanium plates, a tension band and six screws into his face. The operation was eight weeks after his jaw was originally broken. In that time Clingingsmith says he lost 60 pounds because he couldn&rsquo;t eat. His medical records show that for weeks after the surgery, saliva and water leaked out of his neck where the cuts were made. And Clingingsmith says all that could have been avoided if Dr. William Rankin at the East Moline prison would have diagnosed him and wired his jaw shut when the injury first happened. That&rsquo;s part of the reason Clingingsmith is suing, but because he&rsquo;s no longer in prison he can&rsquo;t utilize the expertise of other inmates in the law library and his case is starting to fall apart.<br /><br />According to IDOC Dr. Rankin still works at the prison, but a spokeswoman declined to comment further because the case is still in court. Wexford refused comment for the same reason.&nbsp;When I reached Dr. Rankin by phone, he said he also didn&rsquo;t think it was wise to talk because of the ongoing lawsuit.<br /><br />Clingingsmith thinks Rankin&rsquo;s medical license should be taken away. &ldquo;If he can&rsquo;t even diagnose a broken jaw when somebody comes in the office and says, &lsquo;Hey, doc, my jaw is killing me. &nbsp;I think it&rsquo;s broken, I&rsquo;m sure it&rsquo;s broken,&rsquo; I don&rsquo;t think he should be doing that job. &nbsp;That&rsquo;s not the right gig for him. He should be doing something that he wants to do,&rdquo; said Clingingsmith.<br /><br />Alan Mills with the Uptown People&rsquo;s Law Center isn&rsquo;t surprised when I tell him about Clingingsmith&rsquo;s case. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s absolutely representative of the level of care. &nbsp;That sort of delaying of treatment until things get worse is typical,&rdquo; said Mills in a windowless room at his low-rent office on Chicago&rsquo;s north side.</p><p>Mills brings a lot of lawsuits on behalf of prisoners. He&rsquo;s filed a federal class action lawsuit over medical care. He often sues solely for injunctive relief, which simply means he&rsquo;s not looking for money, he just wants to force a change in the conditions. That is what he&rsquo;s looking for in the medical class action suit. As part of that case Mills has collected horror stories from prisoners.</p><p>He says one of his clients was complaining about ear aches for a year and every time he saw the doctor he was treated with antibiotic ear drops. Turns out he had cancer. Mills says another man, a diabetic, got a blister on his foot. Mills says he wasn&rsquo;t given the proper medication and the blister turned into a sore and because of the man&rsquo;s poor circulation the wound got worse and worse until recently doctors had to cut off a large part of his foot down to the bone.<br /><br />&ldquo;So a small problem which should have been easily solved at the beginning was left to sit and literally fester for months on end until it became a huge problem and that unfortunately is what we see all the time in the Department of Corrections: putting off care that would be very simple at the beginning and putting it off and putting it off and putting it off until it becomes a serious problem which nobody can ignore any more,&rdquo; said Mills.<br /><br />In an emailed statement a Wexford spokesman wrote, &ldquo;We assure you that Wexford Health holds our employees accountable just as any other company would,&rdquo; and added that Wexford has no incentive to provide bad care because that would result in expensive lawsuits. But Mills thinks Wexford tries to delay care until the inmate is released and is no longer their problem, though he puts most of the blame not on the private health provider, but on IDOC.</p><p><strong>Watching out for prison health care&nbsp;</strong><br /><br />Mills says the private health care contract &ldquo;can work but only if there&rsquo;s a good quality control and somebody watching Wexford to make sure that they actually provide a good level of care and the department has not provided that sort of oversight at all. &nbsp;Their contract provides for that sort of monitoring but they don&rsquo;t in fact do it.&rdquo;<br /><br />By email an IDOC spokeswoman said, &ldquo;The department monitors Wexford through a comprehensive and continuous quality improvement process that includes monthly reviews.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s tough to know exactly what all that means so I repeatedly asked to speak to someone from the Department of Corrections who could explain in practical terms how they monitor Wexford. IDOC has refused, citing pending litigation. But, of course, there are always lawsuits pending against the Department of Corrections - that doesn&rsquo;t mean there can&rsquo;t be any discussion of how they oversee a billion-dollar contract.<br /><br />The spokeswoman did write that the department&rsquo;s medical director visits each site once a year. As for the doctors and their performance, she said Wexford is responsible for reviewing and disciplining them because they&rsquo;re Wexford employees. That seems to underscore Mills&rsquo; point. &nbsp;He says, &ldquo;You have to enforce a contract or it doesn&rsquo;t mean anything. &nbsp;There&rsquo;s nobody holding them accountable other than the courts.&rdquo;<br /><br />John Maki with the John Howard Association says that&rsquo;s unfortunately true. &ldquo;Right now we&rsquo;re relying on court cases to provide oversight, which should be taking place at the institutional level. &nbsp;If we get to the point of litigation, the problem&#39;s already happened, right? &nbsp;Someone&rsquo;s already suffered grievous injury. &nbsp;We want to prevent injury,&rdquo; said Maki.<br /><br />Maki says there are some doctors and medical staff who do heroic work. Exhibit &lsquo;A&rsquo; could be the dental assistant who immediately took x-rays of Clingingsmith&rsquo;s jaw and got him the care he needed. But Maki says other staff might not be as good, and without oversight to enforce standards the system is relying on the goodwill of staff or court cases.</p><p>&ldquo;Here&rsquo;s what court cases can&rsquo;t do. &nbsp;They can&rsquo;t create a more effective system. &nbsp;They can chip away at it, they can restore someone who&rsquo;s been hurt but they&rsquo;re not good at building better systems of oversight. &nbsp;We need government to do that,&rdquo; said Maki.</p><p>Maki says there are a lot of questions about this contract and about the kind of health services inmates are getting--and there are few answers. It&rsquo;s been my experience that this lack of oversight is part of a pattern with the Department of Corrections. It&rsquo;s hard to know what&rsquo;s going on in the prisons, facilities far away from Chicago, locked behind bars and layers of wire fencing. For many months IDOC and Governor Pat Quinn have refused and continue to refuse WBEZ&rsquo;s requests to visit prisons. The information we do get from IDOC comes from emailed statements that aren&rsquo;t always terribly clear or helpful. John Maki&rsquo;s concern with the health care contract could apply to much of what goes on in the Department of Corrections.<br /><br />&ldquo;It&rsquo;s kind of like what Reagan said: &nbsp;Trust but verify.&#39; &nbsp;We need to verify this thing. &nbsp;We need to go in and make sure that what they say they&rsquo;re doing, they&rsquo;re actually doing. &nbsp;Right now all we&rsquo;re doing is trusting. &nbsp;There&rsquo;s no verifying going on.&rdquo;<br /><br />Maki says given the history and all the complaints about health care and how much it&rsquo;s costing the state, that just doesn&rsquo;t make sense. As the state&rsquo;s prison watchdog Maki&rsquo;s official recommendation is that the governor and legislature fund an independent audit of health care in the prisons to make sure that inmates are actually getting the care that taxpayers are paying for.</p></p> Tue, 02 Oct 2012 22:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-inmate-says-he-lost-60-pounds-when-broken-jaw-was-untreated-8-weeks-102852 88 inmates sharing 2 toilets in Illinois prison http://www.wbez.org/news/88-inmates-sharing-2-toilets-illinois-prison-102249 <p><p>When the ceiling in dorm &#39;E&#39; fell in on Sunday, 88 prisoners were moved to the gym where there are only two toilets.<br /><br />Walter Mikolajczyk says the gym is a miserable place to live. He says &quot;there&#39;s no windows in the gym&rdquo; and it&rsquo;s like a dungeon and two toilets are definitely not enough. &nbsp;<br /><br />Mikolajczyk did time in Vandalia for drunk driving and he was forced to live in the gym because of overcrowding in the prison. He says at certain times of the day, like first thing in the morning, the toilets were never available in the gym, and he says people who got sick would sometimes be forced to use the showers as toilets.<br /><br />The Department of Corrections says the restrooms are adequate, saying there are also five urinals.<br /><br />Mikolajczyk says he&#39;s not surprised the ceiling collapsed because the whole facility has water damage and mold. He works in construction and he says the building should be condemned and the state should not be wasting its money trying to patch the place up.<br /><br /><a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/troubled-illinois-prisons-out-public-eye">WBEZ has been reporting</a> on the troubled prison and has been seeking a visit, but Gov. Pat Quinn has said no, citing safety and security concerns.</p></p> Thu, 06 Sep 2012 17:54:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/88-inmates-sharing-2-toilets-illinois-prison-102249 Ceiling collapses at troubled downstate IL prison http://www.wbez.org/news/ceiling-collapses-troubled-downstate-il-prison-102173 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP04021805731.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F58802010&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false&amp;color=ff7700" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>A ceiling has collapsed at the Vandalia prison in Southern Illinois forcing administrators there to move prisoners. According to a written statement from the department of corrections, part of a ceiling collapsed Sunday morning because of rain. The short statement says roofing work was already underway at Vandalia and notes no staff or inmates were injured though 88 inmates had to be moved to the prison&#39;s gym.<br /><br />An IDOC spokeswoman could not immediately answer follow-up questions seeking more info on the size or seriousness of the collapse. WBEZ has recently reported on deteriorating living conditions and overcrowding at Vandalia.<br /><br />This is not the first time prisoners have been forced to live in the gym. One former inmate says he stayed there with about 60 men and only one working toilet. There&#39;s no word yet from IDOC on how many working toilets are in the gym now but they say plumbing is &quot;adequate.&quot;<br /><br />WBEZ has been seeking a visit to the prison but Governor Pat Quinn has denied repeated requests.</p></p> Tue, 04 Sep 2012 18:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ceiling-collapses-troubled-downstate-il-prison-102173 Sen. President Cullerton says Quinn wrong on prison access http://www.wbez.org/news/sen-president-cullerton-says-quinn-wrong-prison-access-101751 <p><p>The president of the Illinois Senate, Democrat John Cullerton, says Gov. Pat Quinn should let reporters into prisons. The comments come in response to a series of stories outlining the governor&rsquo;s refusal to let WBEZ visit two minimum security prisons. According to Quinn, it&#39;s a safety and security concern because the prisons aren&#39;t &quot;country clubs.&quot;<br /><br />Cullerton says Quinn&#39;s stand contradicts tradition.<br /><br />&ldquo;There&#39;s a history of reporters being allowed to go into the prison system to observe and that shouldn&#39;t be violated,&rdquo; Cullerton said. &ldquo;I think that there&#39;s a way in which we should allow for you guys to get in to see those prisons.&rdquo;<br /><br />Cullerton said if Quinn has concerns then he should sit down with reporters, perhaps the Senate&#39;s Correspondent&#39;s Committee, to work out a reasonable way to facilitate safe visits that aren&#39;t too burdensome for the Department of Corrections.<br /><br />Cullerton said reports about conditions in the prisons are concerning and that legislators need to know about those problems so they can help solve them.<br /><br />Quinn&rsquo;s office did not return requests for comment.</p></p> Wed, 15 Aug 2012 17:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/sen-president-cullerton-says-quinn-wrong-prison-access-101751 Prison watchdog says governor's reason for keeping reporters out of prisons is worrisome http://www.wbez.org/prison-watchdog-says-governors-reason-keeping-reporters-out-prisons-worrisome-101634 <p><p>A prison watchdog group says Gov. Pat Quinn&#39;s reason for keeping reporters out of the state&#39;s prisons is very concerning.</p><p>Speaking to reporters in Springfield last week, Quinn defended his decision to keep journalists from seeing inside the prisons.</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah, well I don&#39;t believe in that,&rdquo; said Quinn. &ldquo;I think that it&#39;s important that when it comes to the security of our prisons I go with the director that I have at the Department of Corrections. &nbsp;Security comes first and it isn&#39;t a country club.&rdquo;</p><p>John Maki, the executive director of the John Howard Association, says security shouldn&rsquo;t be an issue.</p><p>&ldquo;If the Department of Corrections can&#39;t guarantee the safety of a reporter coming in to just ask some very legitimate questions to talk to inmates, to talk to staff, that raises some real concerns about the safety of the facilities. &nbsp;If they&#39;re actually that insecure, that&#39;s a problem. &nbsp;That in and of itself is a problem,&rdquo; said Maki.</p><p>Volunteers with the John Howard Association visit prisons every month. They issued reports detailed appalling conditions at the Vandalia and Vienna prisons a year ago, and those conditions have been largely unchanged in that time.</p></p> Mon, 13 Aug 2012 02:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/prison-watchdog-says-governors-reason-keeping-reporters-out-prisons-worrisome-101634 Quinn defends decision to keep reporters out of prisons http://www.wbez.org/quinn-defends-decision-keep-reporters-out-prisons-101630 <p><p>Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is addressing some issues raised in WBEZ&#39;s reporting on state prisons this week.<br /><br />When he spoke to reporters in Springfield on Thursday, Quinn said he wants to look into any specifics that deal with prison conditions. &nbsp;He said, &ldquo;I want to always pay attention to that and we&#39;ll take a look at that and we&#39;ll take a look at that and investigate everything.&rdquo;<br /><br />But the deteriorating conditions we referred to in our stories are not new. &nbsp;We relied heavily on reports from a prison watchdog group, the John Howard Association. Those reports were published a year ago and the issues raised have gone largely unaddressed since then.<br /><br />Quinn was pushed on conditions by a reporter. Here&rsquo;s the exchange they had.<br /><br />REPORTER BRIAN MACKEY: WBEZ has been asking to get a look at those why can&#39;t they get in to see for themselves.<br /><br />QUINN: Yeah, well I don&#39;t believe in that. I think that it&#39;s important that when it comes to the security of our prisons I go with the director that I have at the Department of Corrections. Security comes first and it isn&#39;t a country club.<br /><br />John Maki with the prison watchdog group says if security is a concern then that raises serious questions about the safety of the inmates who live there and the prison employees who work there.</p></p> Fri, 10 Aug 2012 13:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/quinn-defends-decision-keep-reporters-out-prisons-101630 Former inmates not surprised Quinn keeping reporters out of prisons http://www.wbez.org/news/former-inmates-not-surprised-quinn-keeping-reporters-out-prisons-101605 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/P1030009.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Inmates recently released from prisons in Illinois say they&#39;re not surprised that Gov. Pat Quinn won&#39;t let reporters in to see conditions.</p><p>Chris Clingingsmith just completed seven years behind bars for driving drunk. He lost his wife, his house, his cars and his motorbike, but he&rsquo;s glad he got caught when he did because he would have been in a much worse situation than he&rsquo;s in now if he had stayed on the streets and hurt someone.</p><p>He says prison isn&#39;t supposed to be fun, but the Vandalia prison doesn&rsquo;t meet even basic standards. He says he wouldn&#39;t even house a dog in the kind of conditions men are enduring in basements at the minimum security institution.</p><p>WBEZ has been asking to visit the prison for several months, but Gov. Pat Quinn has said no.</p><p>&ldquo;They don&#39;t want you to see firsthand what we&#39;re telling you,&rdquo; says Clingingsmith. &ldquo;I have no reason to lie. &nbsp;I&#39;m not in there anymore so they can&#39;t do anything to me. &nbsp;If you walked in there, I&#39;m not going to exaggerate, you would probably just go wow, they actually house people in these areas. &nbsp;You would be amazed. &nbsp;You would think that&#39;s above and beyond punishment.&rdquo;</p><p>Clingingsmith says a lot of the men housed at Vandalia are getting very mad. Clingingsmith says the lawmakers who oversee the prisons need to get to Vandalia so they know what&rsquo;s going on.</p><p>Quinn is currently working on closing some prisons, but the union representing workers opposes those closures, saying overcrowding will get worse.</p><p>Illinois spends more than a billion dollars a year on prisons.</p></p> Thu, 09 Aug 2012 17:08:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/former-inmates-not-surprised-quinn-keeping-reporters-out-prisons-101605 Inmates housed in flooded basements, and Gov. Quinn keeping reporters out http://www.wbez.org/news/inmates-housed-flooded-basements-and-gov-quinn-keeping-reporters-out-101555 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AlanMillsoutsidetheUptownPeoplesLawCenter.jpg" title="Attorney Alan Mills thinks prison administrators are threatening inmates to thwart his lawsuit. (WBEZ/Bill Healy)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Overcrowding in the Illinois prison system has officials putting inmates in some rather unusual places. Men recently released from Vienna prison describe being housed with 600 other inmates in an administration building with only seven toilets.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">WBEZ wants to visit <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/gov-quinn-keeps-public-dark-prison-conditions-101548">that building,</a> but Governor Pat Quinn says no.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Today we turn our attention to another prison that Quinn is keeping out of public view.</p><p>Vandalia is in southern Illinois, and some inmates there are housed in basements that regularly flood and are likely filled with mold.&nbsp;We&rsquo;ve talked to several former inmates who say when they complained about the living situation they were threatened by prison employees. One of them is a man named Louis Wilkins.</p><p>Because of his drug and alcohol addictions, Wilkins has spent much of his adult life in and out of prisons.&nbsp;He did his most recent stint at Vandalia.He ended up there because he had been working construction for a friend and the friend refused to pay him for work he&rsquo;d done.</p></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>There&rsquo;s no need to go into all the details, but being ripped off was the final indignity in a long string so Wilkins decided to take action.&nbsp;He broke into his friend&rsquo;s truck, stole some equipment, and as you&rsquo;ve already figured out, he was caught.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/showingpapers.jpg" style="float: right;" title="Louis Wilkins, a former inmate at Vandalia, looks over a grievance he filed about conditions there. (WBEZ/Rob Wildeboer)" />Wilkins said, &quot;I wasn&#39;t thinking.&nbsp; If I woulda been thinking I woulda just said, you know what?&nbsp; You can have that money man and just, you know said, alright.&quot;</div><p>Wilkins pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years.&nbsp;At Vandalia, he was assigned to live with a hundred other men in a basement room.&nbsp;When he first got there other inmates warned him that after it rains the basement floods.</p><p>He figured&nbsp; that meant a few wet spots here and there.&nbsp;</p><p>Not so.</p><p>Wilkens says there was an inch of water across the entire room, and they&#39;d use shop vacs to clean it up but the water kept coming. &nbsp;</p><p>&quot;They put us actually on shifts at night, he said. &quot;I&#39;m laying here sleeping I got somebody next to me using the shop vac, you know, and this here for like two three four days at a time that we would have to do this here, constantly, around the clock.&quot;</p><p>Wilkins says, in the bathroom, when you flushed the toilet, sewage would seep through cracks in the floor.</p><p>I talked to several Vandalia inmates who said it was so hot and humid in those packed basements that condensation would collect on the ceiling and drip down on them.</p><p>Recently released inmates, including Wilkins, said there was also a lot of mold and the prison&#39;s fix was to simply paint over it.</p><p>But Wilkins says I don&#39;t have to believe just him.</p><p>He picks up a print out of a report on Vandalia done by the John Howard Association, a non-partisan group that monitors prisons.</p><p>&quot;Like my word ain&#39;t too good because I&#39;m a convicted felon but the word of these people who come down here, their word weighs a little bit more and it&#39;s all in their report,&quot; he said. &quot;Thank God they made it there and they got in. I can actually show you.&quot;</p><p>The 19-page report details the John Howard Association&rsquo;s observations and then provides explanations given by prison administrators.</p><p>For example, John Howard saw a flooded basement.</p><p>The Vandalia administration said it was an anomaly.</p><p>John Howard noted bare wires hanging from the ceiling where there used to be a light fixture.</p><p>The administration responded that the incident hadn&#39;t been reported.</p><p>John Howard volunteers breathed air in dorms that was dank and smelled strongly of mildew and mold.</p><p>The administration had a staff member assess the air and their report found that Vandalia is better &quot;than most facilities at inhibiting mold growth.&quot;</p><p>I&#39;m no expert, but that doesn&#39;t sound like the gold standard of mold suppression, and in their report John Howard researchers seemed skeptical too, noting that the findings were hard to reconcile with their observations.</p><p>We wanted to go see Vandalia for ourselves and report back to you on conditions that seem to warrant a closer look.</p><p>We&rsquo;ve been seeking access for several months, but Gov. Pat Quinn is keeping us out.</p><p>According to Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson, reporters can&rsquo;t visit the minimum security prison because of safety and security concerns.</p><p>So, what exactly are the safety and security concerns?</p><p>That&rsquo;s one of the questions we have for Quinn, but Anderson has refused to go on tape to answer our questions.</p><p>And now, I&#39;ve talked to several former inmates like Louis Wilkins who say, when they tried to voice concerns, they were threatened with retaliation by prison employees.</p><p>&quot;You know, I had to pipe down on the situation because I was trying to go to school to get my GED.&quot;</p><p>Wilkins says when he asked for grievances, the forms inmates use to write out complaints, the correctional officers said he needn&#39;t bother because they&#39;d just throw out the grievances anyway.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/grievance.jpg" style="float: left; " title=" A copy of a grievance Wilkins filed complaining about conditions at Vandalia. (WBEZ/Rob Wildeboer)" /></div><p>And he says they also threatened to put him in segregation, which would have meant he couldn&#39;t attend GED classes.</p><p>In a written statement, the Department of Corrections says the allegations of threats are disturbing, but it has found no merit to the claims, though the department says it&rsquo;s a serious matter and will be reviewing the issue further.</p><p>As for Wilkins, he says he stopped complaining so he could get his GED but he&rsquo;s simmering with anger for how he was treated.</p><p>&quot;I committed a crime and the judge sentenced me,&quot; he said. &quot;He did not say, Mr. Wilkins, you will be sentenced to four years living in unhealthy conditions to be treated, or housed like an animal.&nbsp; I wouldn&#39;t even house an animal like that.&quot;</p><p>Alan Mills is an attorney with the Uptown People&#39;s Law Center in Chicago, which is suing the Department of Corrections over conditions at Vienna, the prison we reported on yesterday.&nbsp;</p><p>&quot;If you&#39;re going to choose to lock up almost &nbsp;fifty thousand prisoners, then you have to pay the bill for doing it in a humane decent way. The constitution doesn&#39;t say you have constitutional rights if you can afford them.&nbsp; The constitution says you have to do this, so Illinois either has to let some people out of prison or improve the conditions, which is going to mean spending more money,&quot; he said.&nbsp;</p><p>Mills says they&#39;ve got a lawsuit against Vandalia that they&#39;re ready to move on, but there&#39;s a problem.</p><p>In order to file a lawsuit, inmates have to complete the grievance process at the prison--a lawsuit can&rsquo;t be filed as long as a complaint is still pending.</p><p>Mills says he believes prison administrators are purposely sitting on those grievances to make a lawsuit impossible.</p><p>&quot;I mean some grievances get dealt with within a week.&nbsp; After six months, I know from my personal experience that clearly somebody is slowing things down.&quot;</p><p>In a written statement the Department of Corrections insists they strive to promptly respond to all grievances and appropriately address concerns raised in complaints.</p><p>As for the lawsuit Mills hopes to file, it&rsquo;s focused solely on conditions, he said, &quot;This is purely a forward looking lawsuit.&nbsp; We are not trying to figure out what living in these conditions is worth to somebody and therefore trying to get damages for all these individual prisoners.&nbsp; Nobody&#39;s trying to get rich off this. All we&#39;re trying to do is change the conditions so that Illinois does not run such a horrible prison anymore in the future.&quot;</p><p>Illinois spends more than a billion dollars a year on prisons, about $20,000 &nbsp;per year per inmate.</p><p>The conditions inside matter because the prisoners in Vandalia--they&#39;re going to be released.</p><p>And like Louis Wilkins, a lot of them are getting angry.</p><p>Wilkins says he sometimes wakes up crying and can&#39;t get back to sleep as his mind races over his experiences at Vandalia and the politicians and administrators he holds responsible.</p><p>Wilkins said, &quot;Eventually they will have to answer to God.&nbsp; You know they might don&#39;t see their punishment here on earth but they will one day, when they get in front of the maker they&#39;ll see it.&quot;</p><p>Wilkins says he often thinks of the people still imprisoned at Vandalia.</p><p>He says they may have committed crimes, but they should not be forced to live like that.</p></div><p><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/102311988/John-Howard-Association-Report-from-Vandalia" style="margin: 12px auto 6px; font: 14px Helvetica,Arial,Sans-serif; display: block; text-decoration: underline;" title="View John Howard Association-Report from Vandalia on Scribd">John Howard Association-Report from Vandalia</a><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="0.772727272727273" data-auto-height="true" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_73535" scrolling="no" src="http://www.scribd.com/embeds/102311988/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=list&amp;access_key=key-jkrg3oy7898iifexvtm" width="100%"></iframe></p><script src="http://storify.com/WBEZpolitics/gov-quinn-blocks-media-from-illinois-prisons.js?template=slideshow"></script><noscript>[<a href="http://storify.com/WBEZpolitics/gov-quinn-blocks-media-from-illinois-prisons" target="_blank">View the story "Twitter reaction: Gov. Pat Quinn blocks media from Illinois prisons" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p> Thu, 09 Aug 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/inmates-housed-flooded-basements-and-gov-quinn-keeping-reporters-out-101555