Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois received the full approval of the ESL Planning Commission on October 26, 2016 to build and operate a supervised housing program for adult males released from prison and on parole. The approval plan included the security measures and monitoring procedures that would be in place for the residents. OBK is seeking to proceed with the assistance from the City of East St. Louis to find an acceptable site of vacant land and/or existing structure for rehab.
The OBK Board of Directors made a formal presentation to the East St. Louis City Council on December 8th, 2016. Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hick and the City Council Committee members included Public Works Committee (Robert Eastern III, President Pro Tem of City Council), Finance Committee (June Hamilton-Dean), Public Safety Committee (Latoya Greenwood), and Community Development Committee (Roy Mosly Sr.)
Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks, City Manager Courtney Logan and City Attorney Michael Wagner agreed that no voice vote approval was required at the meeting. The Planning Commission had officially approved the OBK project. The City Council had reviewed the OBK presentation document, recommendation of the Planning Department (Darren Thompson and Jesse Lofton) and the documentation from Tina Phillips and were in agreement to proceed. Tina Phillips indicated that Jabari Conrad will be the OBK contact for finding vacant land and/or a suitable structure for rehab. OBK will submit a list of criteria for the home to narrow the selection process.
The following criminal justice articles are included that continue to support the need for restorative justice and rehabilitation of returning citizens released from prisons and jails and entering communities as responsible citizens.
- Catholic Conference of Illinois – Statement to Members of the Illinois Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform
- The U.S. Government’s Verdict on Private Prisons (The Atlantic)
- “Tough on Crime” Doesn’t Pay (America Magazine)
- IDOC’s Mental Health Settlement in Rasho v. Baldwin (Rasho)
Catholic Conference of Illinois – Statement to Members of the Illinois Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform (www.icjia.state.il.us.cjreform2015)
The Catholic faith has a long tradition of ministering to inmates, beginning with the urging in St. Matthew’s Gospel to visit those in prison (25:36) and continuing today with Pope Francis’ special outreach to prisoners. Early in his papacy Pope Francis stressed the importance of this ministry by washing the feet of juvenile prisoners during the Easter season. When he visited the United States in 2015, he stopped at a Philadelphia prison, counseling the inmates on the intention of their time behind bars.
“This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society.”
We were heartened by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s creation shortly after his inauguration of the Illinois Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, with the goal of reducing the state’s current prison population of more than 48,000 inmates by 25% by 2025. With both the executive and legislative branches examining criminal justice reform, we take this opportunity to urge adoption of the following initiatives:
- Enact Compassionate Release
- Expand Rehabilitative Programs in State Prisons
- Ease Re-entry with Legislation Streamlining State IDs, Occupational Licenses and Expungement
- Increase Access to Ministerial Visits
Enact Compassionate Release
As the general public ages and encounters health challenges, so does the Illinois inmate population. As of 2014 more than 700 inmates were 65 or older and 275 were 70 or older, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections. In your report you recommend that terminally-ill and severely-incapacitated prisoners – except for those sentenced to natural life – be transferred to less secure facilities or home confinement when public safety will not be jeopardized. Our bishops echo this suggestion, noting our faith’s emphasis on the inviolable dignity, value and worth of every human person.
Expand Rehabilitative Programs in State Prisons
Too many Illinois prisoners lack the educational and life skills to thrive in society. Less than half of Illinois inmates have a high school degree, and most read below a sixth-grade reading level, according to IDOC figures. Meanwhile, data also show that one-fourth of Illinois inmates are getting mental health services, while about half are in need of substance abuse treatment. It is recommended in your report that rehabilitative programs – such as a literacy curriculum, vocational classes, substance abuse treatment, jobs within the prison, life skills courses, and anger management classes – be expanded to a greater number of prisoners so that they do not fall back into lives of crime when released from prison. Our U.S. and Illinois bishops concur, noting in a 2000 document on crime and criminal justice reform that “punishment must have a purpose. It must be coupled with treatment and, when possible, restitution.”
The Diocese of Belleville has taken the lead in prisoner literacy efforts, with a private citizen, Michael Schuette, financing a program that trains already literate inmates on how to teach other prisoners to read. The program now operates in two Illinois prisons, and the recidivism rate among participants has plummeted. Michael Schuette is working to expand this successful program to all Illinois prisons.
Ease Re-entry with Legislation Streamlining State IDs, Occupational Licenses, and Expungement
Once inmates are released, our responsibility for getting them “back on the right road” continues. A key to easier re-entry is a state identification card, as the individual sheds his prison identity for a new one. House Bill 5915 / Senate Bill 3368 both streamline the process for released prisoners to get state identification cards, which helps them to rent apartments and apply for jobs.
We also applaud House Bill 6973 that builds on the re-entry initiative by easing hurdles for ex-offenders to get certain occupational licenses, giving them a chance at such careers as a funeral director or embalmer, a roofer, a barber, a cosmetologist, or a nail technician. Public safety is ensured by prohibiting any ex-offender convicted of homicide, sex offenses, armed robbery and other serious crimes.
We also support House Bill 6328, which allows individuals to expunge from public record any arrests or charges that were later dismissed, acquitted, vacated or reversed.
Increased Access to Ministerial Visits
The Catholic Conference of Illinois coordinates the Illinois Catholic Prison and Jail Ministry Network, which is made up of clergy and laity from each diocese who minister to prisoners and inmates of state, federal and local institutions. These volunteers celebrate Mass, offer communion services, hear confessions, and lead Bible studies in an effort of pastoral care that is key to any rehabilitation. But this ministry is not exclusively sacramental or program-based. Pastoral care is also provided by volunteers by simply visiting the prisoners, listening and being present.
Our clergy and lay Catholics are committed to this ministry, but are often hindered by a lack of sufficient access to prisons and jails. Prison and public safety must always come first, but should not stifle the restorative power of evangelization. We remain committed to working with the state and local officials in order to minister to and be present for those behind bars. As our U.S. bishops noted in the 2000 document mentioned earlier, “rehabilitation and restoration must include the spiritual dimension of healing and hope.”
The Catholic Conference of Illinois
The U.S. Government’s Verdict on Private Prisons
The U.S. Department of Justice said it will no longer house inmates in private prisons, a decision that comes a week after a report found privately run prisons have worse safety records and do not save taxpayers a significant amount of money compared with federally operated facilities. The announcement was made in a memo from Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates that instructed the Bureau of Prison (BOP) officials not to sign any new contracts with private prison operators, and not to renew any existing contracts in the future. Within minutes of the news, the stock of the nation’s largest private prison companies, GEO group, and Corrections Corporation of America, plummeted.
The report Yates cited in her memo, conducted by the Office of the Inspector General, analyzed 14 private prisons in the United States that were used by the government to house prisoners. If found more contraband, lockdowns, and severe inmate punishment on average in the privately run facilities than those run by the BOP. It also found systemic deficiencies, and recommended the BOP had more work to do to ensure that “federal inmates’ rights and needs are not placed at risk when they are housed in contract prisons.”
Private prisons reached their peak in 2013, when they held about 15% of all federal prisoners, or 220,000 people. That year, the government spent about $639 million on private-prison contracts. Since then the number of federal prisoners housed in private prisons has dropped to 12 %.
“Tough on Crime” Doesn’t Pay
Crime is an easy target for outrage; it has not defenders. But all too often, the easiest way to signal opposition to crime is to call for even harsher and less effective measures against criminals. Encouraging the belief that the primary way for a society to combat crime is to punish criminals more severely leads to bad policy and sometimes even to more crime. It abandons our collective moral responsibility on many levels, both for the criminals it fails to rehabilitate and reconcile with society and for the communities and families left scarred by their absence.
“Tough on crime” rhetoric became prominent in the 1960s, exploited by politicians and cheered by voters, often with thinly veiled racial and other social slurs. Along with the war on drugs, it resulted in mandatory sentencing, zero tolerance and “three strikes” policies that swelled the prison populations. At the same time court systems were swamped with cases, increasing the incentive for plea bargains and with the disproportionate power of prosecutors. Budgets were exhausted by the cost of incarceration, often leading to cuts in programs for the rehabilitation and education of prisoners,
The fact that rhetoric encouraging fear works so well is all the more reason that it must be resisted and called out. Even when crime is on the upswing – as it is in some cities – the conclusion that more aggressive law enforcement is the best or only answer is unwarranted. Focusing on getting illegal guns off the street and reducing their availability would probably do more to prevent violence, at a smaller financial and moral cost, than increasing persecution and incarceration.
While there are some helpful signs of movement toward criminal justice reform, like the Department of Justice phasing out the use of private prisons and voters beginning to withhold support from overly aggressive prosecutors, the larger trend in Washington is not as hopeful. The Sentencing and Corrections Reform Act, which enjoyed wide support from both Democrates and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, died in the Senate in May. Senator Tom Cotton, who helped kill the bill, said that while victims of crime deserved empathy, “As for the claim that we should have more empathy for criminals, I won’t even try to conceal my contempt for the idea.” He did, however, admit that encouraging redemption and rehabilitation of criminals could be in “our interest as a society.”
While Senator Cotton is right that rehabilitation is in society’s best interest, he is badly wrong to imagine that it can be achieved without more empathy for criminals or that such empathy undermines justice instead of tempering with mercy. Political rhetoric that rejects attempts to improve our criminal justice system in order to maintain the false security of appearing “tough on crime” betrays us all.
(America Magazine, September 19, 2016 Issue)
IDOC’s Mental Health Settlement in Rasho v. Baldwin (Rasho)
In May 2016, a settlement agreement was reached in the ongoing litigation, Rasho v. Baldwin (Rasho), a case brought in response to allegations of inadequate mental health treatment for IDOC inmates. Provisions for improving mental health care and accommodations within IDOC – and related changes to staff hiring, prison construction, inmate screening, referrals, confidentiality, education, continuity of care, and documentation processes – are all required under the Rasho Agreement.
MOST NOTABLE IMPROVEMENTS
- Recognizing the need to improve mental health care, setting new standards to improve the quality of care, and beginning necessary staff training.
- Mandating minimum out-of-cell time for inmates identified as having a mental illness.
- Requiring an agreement with Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide inpatient level of care services for inmates in DHS treatment facilities.
- Requiring input from mental health professionals in disciplinary decisions.
- Hiring a specialized court-appointed mental health Monitor to oversee compliance with the Agreement.
SIGNIFICANT ONGOING CHALLENGES
- Lack of budget and appropriations.
- Ability to hire and retain required licensed Mental Health Professionals.
- Ability to improve record keeping / continuity of care due to limitations of existing system capacity.
- Creating consistency for uniform application and expectations around changes to rules and timely implementation of changes where necessary resources are not yet in place.
- Prisons remain largely unsuitable environments for the provision of therapeutic care and mental health interventions are still primarily crisis-oriented.
The costs of implementing the settlement are estimated at $40 million for prison construction, and an additional $40 million annually to pay for increased mental health and security staff. The reality is that the more crowded facilities are, the harder it will be to meet terms of the settlement. It remains unclear what effect the Governor and the Legislature’s recent stop-gap budget will have on the rollout of mental health improvements within IDOC. Many of the important provisions within the Agreement have a “Budget Contingent Approval Date” meaning they have a timeline triggered by the date the State of Illinois passes a budget.
(John Howard Association of Illinois prepared the Summary and Guide to IDOC’s Mental Health Settlement in Rasho, August 2016)
Reference: JHA’s Executive Director, Jennifer Vollen Katz, (firstname.lastname@example.org)