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I write today to oppose HB 5072 (Manley). This bill seeks to make it a criminal offense to have sex or
masturbate in any penal institution. In addition, anyone convicted two or more times under this law
would be required to register as a sex offender.

Recently, Governor Pritzker announced that all staff working in Illinois prisons will have to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by mid-October. Sadly, rather than engaging with the governor, AFSCME, the guards' union, immediately announced that it was opposed to any requirement that staff be vaccinated. The union instead proposed that it will continue to educate staff, in the hope that more staff will agree to vaccinate voluntarily.

The undersigned organizations fully support the governor's mandate regarding vaccinations for prison staff...

Monday night, I watched from my office window as thousands of protesters flooded the streets. It was the largest protest I’ve seen in Uptown in the 40 years that I’ve lived and worked here.

Yesterday, the story circulated in the press and on Facebook about the owner of the Cubs pouring money into support of Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. In response, many people posted comments touting how they were White Sox fans, and thus untainted by the Cubs' owners’ conservative agenda. I posted a comment in response that the White Sox have their own sordid history...and several people asked for details.

The Illinois Department of Corrections recently published proposed regulations which take some important steps towards reducing the harm done to those held in solitary confinement in Illinois prisons. However, the regulations continue to allow solitary far in excess of the 15-day maximum permitted under international law, and fail to address many of the inhumane conditions in…

On June 30th the nurse who gave Molly her drugs did not give them to her in separate tubes. Instead, the nurse mixed them all together after they were crushed. Molly refused to take them that way, as she wanted to know which drugs she was being given. The nurse insisted that she was required to take all the drugs—which was not true. Rather than offering Molly the drugs separately, or having her talk to a mental health professional, the nurse called out the “Orange Crush”—the tactical team responsible for using physical force to make prisoners do what they are told.

Introductory Note: On March 23, 2017, I represented Reuben Taylor before Illinois’ Prisoner Review Board (our version of a parole board). After lengthy discussion, the Board voted 6-8 to deny Mr. Taylor parole. Emblematic of the feeling of several members of the Board was a statement made by Mr. Johnson explaining his vote. He stated…

The headline from a recent Pantagraph article screams, “Prosecutor files 14 cases against inmates in Pontiac incidents.” This is misleading and announces a terrible policy. Why is the headline misleading? It sounds like the Livingston County State’s Attorney held a press conference to announce that he had just filed a slew of new cases against…

Yesterday, I traveled to Springfield to attend a meeting of JCAR to consider regulations proposed by the Illinois Department of Corrections, about changes in the way Illinois keeps people in solitary confinement in its prisons. Between 6am and the time I arrived, the meeting time had been changed, so I missed the meeting. While I…

For years, slum landlords in Uptown used "rent to own" schemes to defraud tenants, and escape building code enforcement. They would "sell" large buildings in deep disrepair to someone from the neighborhood--selling a dream that someday the tenant could own the whole building. The "owner" would in the meantime act as the manager, without pay (because they "owned" the building, collecting rent, and passing along almost all of it to the real owner, allegedly towards the purchase price.

Dr. Keramet Reiter has uncovered what should be a national scandal in her new book, 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement. Over the last two decades, Pelican Bay, California's notoriously brutal supermax prison, has housed thousands of people who are locked in solitary cells alone, 23 hours a day, for years. Despite its controversial regime of extreme isolation, Pelican Bay was built with no public debate at all.

We hold approximately 100,000 people in solitary confinement—locked in their cells involuntarily 22-24 hours a day, with no meaningful social contact. And solitary is torture. Five years ago, I would not have said that—I thought that sentiment denigrated “real” torture, was inflammatory, and would alienate potential allies who thought solitary wasn’t a good idea but would be turned off by charges of torture.

Recently, I visited with a man named Lamont, a prisoner at Menard Correctional Center. He’s 34 years old and grew up in Chicago. Lamont is Black. Lamont was first diagnosed with a serious mental illness at the age of 10. As a child, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. He…

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Amy. She is an extremely pleasant young woman, and a joy to talk with. We chatted about what we were reading, how we spent our day, family—all of the things you talk about with your friends every day. But this conversation was different: Amy is a…

Most people don’t even know that Illinois regularly sues former prisoners for the costs of their incarceration, and because virtually everyone who ends up in prison is poor, the State recoups very little from these cases—a total of $355,000 in FY2015 (the most that has been recovered in the last decade—almost all from one person).

Earlier this week, I celebrated my 60th birthday. As we get older, our friends tend to get older too, and inevitably we start attending more funerals. Last night, I went to a memorial service for Melvin Haywood. Next week, I will go to a funeral for Ra Chaka. Over the last few weeks, I have followed…

I am appalled, saddened, and angered by the vote this week by the Chicago City Council to give $16 million in taxpayer money to subsidize a luxury high-rise development on the site of the old Cuneo Hospital/Maryville Hospital in Uptown. This $16 million TIF will divert much-needed money from Chicago’s schools and parks over the…

Aaron Fillmore was locked up at the age of 19. Now 41 years old, he has spent his entire adult life in prison. For over 17 years, he has been held in solitary—locked in a cell 23+ hours a day, with no meaningful social contact.

The US spends billions of dollars locking human beings in cages. We imprison more people than any other country in the history of the Earth. Over 2 million people are in prison in this country on any given day. We have a higher rate of incarceration than any other country on earth. We lock up…

Today, I saw Patrice Daniels at Stateville Correctional Center. I have been visiting prisoners at Stateville (located near Joliet, about an hour south of Chicago) for the last 35 years. Over the last year, I have visited with scores of seriously mentally ill prisoners. Today’s visit with Patrice was the most difficult, infuriating visit I…

On Friday, January 29th, a UPLC intern and I spent the day visiting women at Logan Correctional Center. The primary purpose of the visit was to meet with prisoners who suffered from mental illness—all of whom are members of the plaintiff class in our recently-settled case challenging the way people with mental illness are treated in Illinois prisons (Rasho v. Baldwin). Yet again, these meetings drove home just how many seriously hurting people we house behind bars, and how far away we are from providing them with decent treatment. The details of some of the conversations I had are confidential, and covered by attorney-client privilege. Other women specifically gave me permission to share their stories.

Cara Taylor passed away today. Since 2002, we at UPLC represented Cara, first in her fight for disability benefits, and later in a series of battles she had with her landlord.

A dozen activists are slowly starving themselves, now entering the third week of a hunger strike demanding that the mayor and the Board of Education save Bronzeville’s only community high school.

Over the past year the Uptown People’s Law Center has received numerous letters from prisoners at Menard Correctional Center, initially, and more recently from another lower security southern prisons such as Shawnee Correctional Center. The letters describe a policy wherein the state tactical team lines up men, handcuffs them behind their backs and then forces the man behind him to follow so closely that his genitals are either in the hands of the man in front or touching his behind. Amongst the prison populations this is known as "nut to butt."

Four and one-half feet by ten feet. 45 square feet. Until last summer, that was the size of the cells in the segregation unit at Illinois’ Menard prison–Illinois’ largest prison, housing over 3,000 men. There are no windows in these cells. The cell-fronts are not open bars, like you typically see on television: the cell-fronts are solid steel, broken up only by a small window so guards can see in, and a feeding slot which is kept locked. The beds are approximately 3 ½ feet wide. There is a toilet/sink at the back of each cell. That leaves a tiny rectangle about 1 foot wide, and 8 feet long of open floor space–not enough room to comfortably pace back and forth.

We at the Law Center have recently received dozens of letters from prisoners at Stateville, Menard and Pontiac, complaining that the Department had instituted a new policy of banning all typewriters (typewriters which prisoners had purchased at the prison commissary), and banning any prisoner from having more than one fan.

Illinois Governor Quinn has taken the decisive step to finally close Tamms Supermax prison in Southern Illinois.

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