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Burlet v. Jeffreys

In April 2018, the Stateville prison debate program, run by Katrina Burlet, held a debate on the ways in which Illinois might implement a parole system. This debate was attended by 18 members of the Illinois General Assembly, as well as a number of journalists, IDOC officials, members of the Illinois Parole Review Board, and other members of the public. 

Less than two weeks later, the Illinois Department of Corrections cancelled the debate program, and banned Ms. Burlet from all Illinois prisons. Gladyse Taylor, the assistant director of IDOC, visited Stateville, and informed the class that she did not approve of the class’s communication with legislators, as it would get in the way of IDOC’s pursuit of its own legislative agenda. 
UPLC is suing IDOC. Our lawsuit, on behalf of Ms. Burlet, seeks to reinstate the debate program, and seeks damages for defamatory remarks IDOC director John Baldwin made about Ms. Burlet.

Attorneys: Liz Mazur, Alan Mills, Nicole Schult (Uptown People's Law Center)

Date Filed: August 28, 2018

Court: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

Status: Active

Case Number: 18 C 5875


A federal judge cleared the way for a teacher to pursue a lawsuit accusing Illinois prison officials of violating her right to free speech when they canceled a debate course she taught behind bars.

The Illinois Department of Corrections has revised its publication review policy to include a centralized appeal process for incarcerated people who feel they’ve been unfairly denied access to certain reading materials.

Illinois corrections officials have issued a sweeping new regulation that appears to prohibit prisoners from being sent materials downloaded from the internet.

Earlier this year, Danville prison removed about 200 books, many of which dealt with race issues. But the new rules don’t go far enough, says one advocate.

What if prisons moved past archaic notions of “punishment” and shifted instead towards rehabilitation models? Stateville Calling explores the possibility of restoring incarcerated people’s lives, highlighting the personal narratives of elderly prisoners. Directed by Ben Kolak and produced by Yana Kunichoff, the hour-long documentary follows the current battle to pass legislation reinstating parole in Illinois, which the state hasn’t had since 1978.

Officials at an Illinois prison suspended an educational program for inmates, launched two internal investigations and removed 200 books from a prison library because many had “racial” content or addressed issues like diversity and inclusion, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Thirteen prisoners were sitting in a stuffy classroom at Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center one morning last April when a group of prison administrators invited themselves in─and closed the doors behind them.

Uptown People's Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections for shutting down a prison debate team. This spring, WGN Investigates profiled inmates who participated a prison debate team at the Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet.

The Illinois Department of Corrections was sued on Tuesday over its controversial decision to abruptly halt a debate program at Stateville Correctional Center, weeks after the class debated the state parole laws before an audience that included 18 legislators and other state officials.

More than a dozen inmates inside one of Illinois’ most notorious prisons began meeting on a weekly basis last fall to discuss an unconventional topic: debate. Fourteen prisoners housed at Stateville Correctional Center were chosen last year to begin a new debate team at the maximum-security facility. But after they started researching topics like parole and offered draft legislation to state legislators, they say corrections directors shut their program down.

The Uptown People’s Law Center is suing IDOC on behalf of debate coach Katrina Burlet, who says she was allowed to create debate teams within the prison to help inmates develop communications skills and more.

Illinois Department of Corrections officials ended Stateville prison's debate program because officials did not like the prisoners being in close contact with, and thus having an influence on, state legislators. On Tuesday, lawyers with Uptown People's Law Center will file a lawsuit on behalf of Katrina Burlet, who headed this successful program, to get the program reinstated.

"The program cost the Illinois Department of Corrections almost nothing. It was run by an eager volunteer who has now been banned from state facilities without much of an explanation. So why was it shut down just six days after we broadcast a story about it?"

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