Illinois Public Media News
Over the past several months, repeated attempts to visit the Vandalia and Vienna Correctional Centers in Illinois have been denied by the state. Illinois' prison system is in crisis. It was built to house 34,000 people, but it is now crowded with 48,000 inmates.
The overcrowded prison crisis has been brewing for a long time, invisible behind cement walls and wire fences. Gov. Pat Quinn seems determined to keep it from public view.
Chicago Public Radio has requested visits to the two minimum security facilities in Vandalia and Vienna to see what taxpayers are getting for the billion dollars they spend each year on prisons. Gov. Quinn said no.
When Jerome Suggs was sentenced for driving on a revoked license he was sent to Vienna, located near the southernmost point in Illinois, about 350 miles from Chicago. Suggs was assigned to live on the third floor of a building but there was absolutely no view.
"When I moved up there (in Building 19), there was boards up on the windows and I was just looking like, 'Wow! What is this?" Suggs said.
Suggs said there was not a single window letting in light and that he was put in a large room with several hundred other men. All of the men were crowded onto bunks with nothing to do. There are 600 inmates in the building and only seven showers and seven toilets, and the toilets often broke and overflowed, resulting in a strong sewage smell.
"The smell that came from the showers and it came into the living quarters and yeah, I used to go to sleep with my pillow over my face, the smell was horrible, man," Suggs said.
The Illinois child-welfare agency has agreed in court to hire more people to investigate claims of abuse and neglect.
A spokesman says the Department of Children and Family Services hopes to have 100 additional investigators in place by October. Kendall Marlowe said Wednesday that means each investigator will get only nine new cases each month.
That's well under the court-imposed limit, which is generally 12 news cases a month.
The agency will reach the staffing goal by cutting administrative jobs and moving people to investigations.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois calls the agreement "an important step'' in reversing problems at the agency, which has been hit with deep budget cuts.
Illinois State Police have launched a criminal investigation at the Tamms Correctional Center after leaks to reporters about the process of closing the prison.
Spokeswoman Monique Bond tells the Associated Press that "there is an ongoing investigation into criminal activity.'' She would not say more.
But an employee at Tamms says investigators attempted to interview nine workers there yesterday. Most of them did not agree to answer questions.
Three investigators were from the state police and one from the Corrections Department, said the employee. He would speak only on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
The prison agency has been concerned about confidential information leaking to the news media about Tamms, which is scheduled to close at month's end, along with the women's facility in Dwight.
Illinois has added the University of Washington to its 2013 football schedule and will play the Huskies at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Illinois said in a news release Tuesday that the Illini will face the Huskies on Sept. 14.
Illinois has only played one other game at Soldier Field. That was a 10-9 win over Washington State in 1994.
The Illini last played in Chicago in November 2010. Illinois defeated Northwestern 48-27 at Wrigley Field.
The Illini also announced they've finished out their 2013 schedule by adding a Sept. 28 game against Miami (Ohio) at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Other non-conference games were also added against Youngstown State in 2014, Western Illinois and Kent State in 2015 and Western Michigan in 2016.
Former Illini Nikkita Holder is one of three Canadians advancing to Tuesday's semifinals of the women's 100-meter hurdles at the London Olympics.
The 25-year-old Holder advanced on Monday with a qualifying time of 12.93 seconds. According to a CBC report, Holder said it wasn't her best time. "I'll get through on time and fine tune something for the semifinal," she said.
Holder will compete alongside her teammates Jessica Zelinka, who finished 2nd in her heat, with a time of 12.75 seconds. Another Canadian advancing to the semifinals is Phylicia George, who also 2nd in her heat, at 12.73 seconds.
Americans qualifying for the women's 100-meter hurdles semifinals are Lolo Jones (12.68 seconds), Kellie Wells (12.69 seconds) and Dawn Harper (12.75 seconds).
Alina Talay of Belarus had the fastest time with 12.71 seconds.
UPDATE: Holder finished 6th in the 100 meter semifinals with a 12.93 seconds, and won't compete in the finals later Tuesday. The USA's Dawn Harper finished 1st in the semis with a mark of 12.46.
A special regulatory committee in Danville meets Monday night to discuss ways animal control can be improved in the city.
The city pays the Danville Humane Society to oversee animal control. But that could change based on the committee's recommendations, which may include shifting animal control duties to city staff or consolidating existing operations with the county.
Alderman and committee member Rickey Williams, Jr. said Danville should stop relying on the local Humane Society to take care of animals.
"When we talk about humane society, we're supposed to be helping and taking care of animals," Williams said. "That's not what's happening now."
Williams said he has heard from people who allege the humane society has abused and neglected animals. Humane Society Board President Pete Lary dismisses those claims.
"We've got a proven track record," Lary said. "We have provided service without an increase in funding for all these years, and we do do a good job with the cards that we're dealt."
Danville pays the Humane Society $78,000 a year for various services, including animal control.
Whatever course the city takes, Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said more money needs to be invested in animal care.
"We have done a great disservice to the Danville Humane Society in the amount of money we have funded them in the past," Eisenhauer said. "I have no doubt that given the proper resources; they could certainly be much closer to what we want, but shame on us for the way we have completely underfunded that organization."
The Animal Regulatory Enforcement Committee meets Monday at 7pm at Danville's Municipal Building.
Decatur's city manager says the new restrictions on water use are the most severe officials can find on record.
Among changes taking effect Thursday morning, Ryan McCrady said for the first time, residents won't be allowed to water their lawns or landscaping. People who maintain vegetable gardens must reduce their watering to three days a week, out of buckets that hold five gallons or less.
The drought has dropped the level of Lake Decatur to 611.51 feet, or three feet below normal. That's just above where it was last fall, but McCrady said getting the word out early has meant few residents fail to comply.
"I think our citizens have been aware that this drought, that's been going on since last July, that they were aware these types of restrictions might come back," he said. "And I think that they've prepared themselves for it."
The restrictions also mean that commercial car washes will have to shut down while the restrictions are in effect. Anyone who violates restrictions can face a fine of up to $250 plus court costs.
McCrady said the city monitors the long-term forecasts up to 90 days for not only rainfall, but temperature, as it impacts evaporation from the lake.
Backers of a pair of referenda on the future of the Champaign County Nursing Home say they're giving up on their proposal, and pulling it from the agenda at Tuesday night's Champaign County Board Committee of the Whole meeting.
One referendum would have authorized the county board to raise property taxes for additional funding for the nursing home. The other ballot question would have authorized the board to consider selling or leasing the facility.
The referenda proposal was sponsored by County Board members Chris Alix and Brendan McGinty (both D-Urbana) and Ron Bensyl (R-Royal). Alix said they wanted the county board to have the authority to take drastic action, if necessary.
"These were intended to be contingency plans," Alix said. "There were no immediate plans to do either, and there still aren't. But as we got further into the discussion, and heard a number of useful comments from other members of the board, it was pretty clear that a majority of the board is satisfied with the way things are going, and doesn't see the need to take action at this point."
Meanwhile, the referenda also failed to win support from the Champaign County Nursing Home Board of Directors. Chair Mary Ellen O'Shaughnessey wrote in a letter to the county board that the nursing home has gone four years without needing extra funds and did not require a tax increase. She added asking voters to consider selling or leasing the home could create uncertainty about the facility's future, making it harder to attract residents.
Alix said despite their decision to drop the referenda, the Champaign County Board needs to remain attentive to the nursing home's finances in the long term, because of its reliance on Medicaid funds for much of its operations.
Meanwhile, voters in neighboring Vermilion County will vote in November on a referendum on whether to sell the county-owned Vermilion Manor Nursing Home.
Penn State Football Player Transfers to Illinois
A Penn State football player has transferred to the University of Illinois. The move comes weeks after the NCAA imposed major sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
A federal appeals court in Chicago has denied an appeal filed by imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released a 16-page ruling on Monday denying the 78-year-old Republican's appeal.
A ruling in his favor could have led to Ryan's release from a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. It was widely seen as his last chance to get out of prison early.
Ryan is nearing the end of a 6 1/2-year sentence. He's due to be released in mid-2013.
The U.S. Supreme Court in April ordered the appeals court to revisit Ryan's arguments to overturn his conviction.
At an unrelated event Monday, Governor Pat Quinn said that the court has spoken and Ryan had his day in court. He says Ryan has to "do the time.
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