2017 Statements

2017 Public Statements

For more information on any of these statements, please contact Jennifer Vollen-Katz, Executive Director John Howard Association, at jvollen@thejha.org or 312.291.9555.  

December 5, 2017:  JHA Public Testimony for the House Appropriations-Public Safety Committee Hearing

In order for Illinois’ prisons to be safe for adults and youth in its custody, as well as the staff and administrators that work inside them, immediate improvements in conditions, treatment, accountability, communication, and structural changes must be made.  Noting that IDOC and IDJJ are different in size, scope and where each system is on a continuum of change, JHA offers the following recommendations to achieve a safer system that will produce better individual outcomes and increased public safety.  Read more.

September 26, 2017:  Illinois’ Response to the Opioid Epidemic: A Public Health Issue Requiring a Medically Based Response

On September 6th, Governor Rauner signed Executive Order 2017-05, establishing the Governor’s Opioid Prevention and Intervention Task Force. Concurrently, the Governor’s Office issued the State of Illinois Opioid Action Plan. The purpose of the new Task Force is to implement the Action Plan with the stated goals of preventing further spread of the opioid crisis, treating and promoting the recovery of individuals with opioid use disorder, and responding effectively to avert opioid overdose deaths.

The new Task Force is not “new” insofar as it follows in the footsteps of prior bureaucratic entities similarly tasked with addressing the Opioid Crisis in Illinois—notably, the Illinois’ House Bipartisan Task Force on the Heroin Crisis, formed by the Legislature in 2014, and the Illinois Opioid Crisis Response Advisory Council, led by the Illinois Department of Human Services/ Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, formed in January of 2017-- of which the John Howard Association of Illinois is a member alongside a broad coalition of State agency leaders, other community stakeholders, criminal justice reform advocates,  and treatment providers.

The John Howard Association of Illinois is heartened by the Governor’s Executive Order and the creation of the newly announced statewide Action Plan to combat opioid abuse, support recovery, and prevent opioid related fatalities. The newly announced Action Plan is broad and has laudable goals, however, it remains general in scope. The specific numbers, benchmarks, quantifiable metrics, infrastructure, expense, and on-the-ground practical resources that ultimately will be needed to effectively stem the tide of Illinois’ Opioid Crisis remain largely undefined under the Action Plan in its current incarnation. While JHA applauds Executive Order 2017-05, the devil is in the details.  Read more here.

September 20, 2017:  JHA Public Testimony for the Sex Offenses and Sex Offender Registration Task Force

JHA has long urged Illinois to revisit the effectiveness of our sex offender management laws and address barriers to reentry. These issues were stressed in JHA’s 2013 report on the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) facility Big Muddy River Correctional Center, where more than 50% of the population, nearly 1,000 men, are identified as sex offenders, including the civilly committed Sexually Dangerous Persons (SDP) population.

As JHA continually visits facilities and receives letters from incarcerated individuals, we are witness to problematic reentry situations that are becoming even more dire as the effects of unreasonably restrictive laws pertaining to sex offenses come to fruition and retroactive registry requirements triggered by non-sex offense convictions broaden the net and ensnare more individuals in the difficulty of finding places to live. We stress the need for meaningful change. Changes to registration requirements alone will not fix issues relating to other legislated requirements that dictate conditions and related lack of reentry housing for people identified as sex offenders.  Read more here.

August 28, 2017:   JHA Public Comment on Rulemaking for Public Act 99-907

JHA believes that the State of Illinois should provide a state identification card to all people leaving the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice at no cost to the incarcerated individual. In its December 2015 draft report, the Illinois Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform identified that an offender’s access to a state identification card upon release is essential to successful reentry. In 2016, the Illinois General Assembly acted upon the Commission’s recommendation by introducing legislation to address this issue.  The result is the passage of that legislation and enactment of Public Act 99-0907.  Read JHA's comments on this Act.

August 16, 2017:  JHA Statement on the Federal Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act

In July of 2017 the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, S. 1524, was introduced by U.S. Senators Corey Booker (NJ), Kamala Harris (CA), Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Illinois’ senior Senator Richard Durbin. As Illinois’ only independent, non-partisan prison watchdog and advocate for a fair, humane and effective criminal justice system, the John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) applauds this step. Many of the changes proposed in this Act for the federal prison system echo recommendations that JHA and others have long advocated for within Illinois, recognizing the need for greater supports for women, parents, families and children affected by incarceration.  Read more.

August 10, 2017:  Fee Waivers for Birth Certificates and State ID Cards for Illinois’ Prisoners is Smart Policy and a Wise Investment

Today is an important day for those in need of a second chance in Illinois, because one of the barriers many individuals leaving prison face in trying to lead productive, law abiding lives has been removed.  The John Howard Association applauds Governor Bruce Rauner for signing Senate Bill 1413 into law.  This new law allows men and women to receive their birth certificate for no fee upon their release from the Department of Corrections, which removes one of the largest obstacles for returning citizens to obtain state identification cards once they leave prison.  Read more.

July 18, 2017:  Youth at IYC Harrisburg Should not be Subject to Outside Prosecution for Minor Offenses

In the past few years Illinois has made great strides in reforming the state’s juvenile justice system.  Agency leaders, legislators, stakeholders and advocates have worked together to integrate new research, evidenced-based best practices, and a renewed commitment to improve rehabilitative outcomes in our juvenile justice system.  Change has also come as a result of a settlement agreement in the ongoing litigation RJ v. Mueller, the lawsuit was brought against the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in order to address the safety and welfare, mental health treatment and educational concerns for youth inside state run youth correctional facilities.  Policies and practices have been rewritten with a focus on rehabilitation of youth, disciplinary practices have been reassessed, and treatment and educational programs have been rigorously evaluated and monitored.  As a result of these and other efforts, DJJ now has fewer youth in custody than ever before in its 11-year history as a stand-alone department, fewer facilities to operate, an increased focus on mental health treatment, education and reentry planning, and has moved away from punitive models of behavior modification in favor of positive behavior reinforcement approaches.

While most juvenile justice experts and professionals agree that these steps have been important and impactful, the longer-term work of changing entrenched punitive perspectives and approaches remains a challenge.  An indicator of the difficulty in moving the juvenile justice system towards a more rehabilitative model that emphasizes individual growth and change is what is happening with shocking and increased frequency to youth in state custody at Illinois Youth Center Harrisburg.  Read more.

May 31, 2017:  Prison Reform and Recidivism Reduction Efforts Thwarted by Illinois Budget Impasse

Illinois, the fifth largest state in the United States, is on the verge of entering a third year without a state budget; this is the longest any state has gone without a budget in modern history.  As May 2017 draws to a close, the State is running a deficit of close to $6 billion, owes approximately $14.5 billion in overdue bills and will owe an estimated $800 million in late fees and interest payments on these overdue bills.  The inability of Governor Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly to finalize and pass a budget has been extremely detrimental to the citizens of this state.  Read more.

February 28, 2017:  John Howard Association Supports Raising Threshold Amount for Felony Theft

Raising the threshold amount for felony theft will allow Illinois to direct resources into communities and away from our costly and impaired prison system.  Incarceration is an expensive and frequently ineffective response to crime that Illinois can no longer afford.  Looking for changes to our system that will preserve public safety while keeping more people from entering or returning to prison is critical to system change that will improve lives and save money.  Read more.

January 10, 2017:  JHA Statement on the Governor's Criminal Justice Commission Final Report

The John Howard Association commends the Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform for their work on the final report which was issued today.  The recommendations include important ways we can reduce the inmate population in Illinois, as well as increase the likelihood of reentry success as prisoners return home; however, there is much work to be done to concretize some of the reforms to ensure that they are implementable and impactful.  Read more.