JHA at work in Illinois
This past year, JHA:
- Made 28 visits to adult and juvenile correctional facilities
- Issued 16 comprehensive reports and statements
- Responded to 3,591 letters from 1,953 inmates
- Answered 645 calls and emails from inmates’ loved ones
- Collected and analyzed 2,102 inmate and prison staff surveys
- Provided monthly legal literacy clinics at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center for pre-trial detained youth and their parents
- Worked with 120+ citizen volunteers and interns
- Spent innumerable hours advocating for, testifying on behalf of, educating on, publicly commenting on, and fighting for criminal justice reform that is fair, effective, and humane.
“Thanks for the information packet. It helped me a lot with having confidence with my case...
Again, thanks for the card, and everything. It surprised me.
Made me feel like there’s people out there that still care, and believe in me.”
- Taken from a letter to JHA from a youth currently in juvenile detention
“I want you to understand that when I was rejected by many so-called public establishment
& non-profit organizations, you accepted my request every month
without a single penny in exchange for your services.
On top of that, I am not even from your state. Thank you.”
- Taken from a letter to JHA from an inmate from the state of Georgia
In the past year, many reforms that JHA has been fighting for were achieved:
- Stateville’s Roundhouse, one of the most outdated, inhumane housing units in our prison system and the only one left of its kind in the United States, was closed.
- Former Illinois Youth Center Kewanee was reopened as a program-centered reentry facility to teach adult inmates life skills to promote success upon release from prison.
- Legislation was passed to provide free state IDs to exiting prisoners and to make sure every inmate in Illinois can obtain a copy of their birth certificate at no cost. An ID is needed to apply for job, get housing and enter treatment when someone leaves prison, yet the bureaucracy and fees involved in obtaining a state ID card often pose unsurmountable hurdles for returning citizens. JHA played a leading role in making state IDs more readily available for inmates upon release, and will continue to work to ensure that the laws providing them are implemented fully and with fidelity.
- JHA continued to advocate for adequate provision of free feminine hygiene products, as limiting a woman’s ability to get these products is unsanitary, inhumane, and unnecessarily humiliating. No one should have to endure routine deprivation of items that are universally considered medical necessities.
- Leaving an Illinois state prison this year with a professional license in hand, exiting inmates are well positioned to make transitions to post-release employment a bit easier. JHA has long advocated for opportunities to be offered to inmates in order to reduce the recidivism rate, and was proud to stand with other advocates to push for an expansion of professional licensure opportunities for those with a felony conviction on their record.
- Decisions about releasing youth from Illinois Youth Centers are now determined by staff who work with the youth on a daily basis, rather than by the Prisoner Review Board, which is an external decision-making body that does not necessarily have an expertise in adolescent development. JHA has consistently recommended that a youth’s readiness to leave custody be evaluated by people who not only know and have worked with the youth, but also have expertise in adolescent brain development.
- JHA uncovered an alarming, ongoing situation at Illinois Youth Center Harrisburg, and subsequently raised public awareness and worked with stakeholders to address and end it. As new reforms are implemented and correctional staff must adjust to new policies, how youth misbehavior is being handled has gone from an internal process to youth being prosecuted on new charges based on minor misconduct, such as spitting, pushing, or grabbing staff that results in no injury or only superficial injuries. These youth were receiving questionable representation and were being sentenced to disproportionately long sentences in adult prison. In response to a motion filed by the ACLU calling out this damaging practice and seeking an end to it, on September 12, 2017, a federal judge went to the facility to understand the situation first hand to determine and order needed action.
- JHA supported reducing the use of solitary confinement, and continues to push the Illinois Department of Corrections to make and implement policies that not only keep people out of solitary, but also provide more support for and more quickly release those who are in it.