Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 12, 2011

Youth Prison’s Suicide-Watch Cells Still Lack Suicide-Proof Beds

A youth prison in the Chicago suburbs still does not have suicide-proof beds in all its rooms, including those where kids on suicide watch are kept. This comes two years after a young man incarcerated at the St. Charles facility killed himself.

Some of the rooms at St. Charles already have what are called "safety beds," specifically designed to prevent their use in suicides. But not in the confinement cells, where kids go when they're put on suicide watch.

Prison watchdog John Howard Association warned about this in July, calling it "absolutely unacceptable."

The state's Department of Juvenile Justice noted at the time that a contractor's bid had been accepted for new beds, and the director said he hoped to have them all installed "within the next month or so."

Two months later, those beds are still not installed in those rooms used for suicide watch, according to department spokesman Kendall Marlowe.

Marlowe notes that getting the suicide-proof furniture takes time, as it is made of custom-molded plastic. He says remodeling work has begun at St. Charles, and "anticipates" installation of safety furniture will be completed at all juvenile justice facilities by the end of this year.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 07, 2011

Final Blagojevich Co-Defendant to Stand Trial

Prosecutors are are filing documents outlining their evidence against William Cellini, the final co-defendant indicted with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Cellini's trial is scheduled for next month.

Cellini had contracts with the state under Republican governors and prosecutors say he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Blagojevich to maintain his clout and business under the Democratic administration.

Prosecutors say he used his clout on boards to extort campaign contributions for Blagojevich from people hoping to do business with the state, and in return for raising cash prosecutors say Cellini was rewarded with lucrative state contracts of his own.

Prosecutors have laid out some of their case against Cellini in the last couple days. The evidence includes a recorded phone call from 2004 in which Cellini worries that Blagojevich's fundraisers are being too brazen in their attempts to get political contributions in return for state business. Cellini worries that authorities will start investigating because "too many people are talking."

Attorneys for Cellini did not return calls for comment.

The other co-defendants indicted along with Blagojevich include staffers Lon Monk and John Harris who both pleaded guilty and testified against their former boss. Chris Kelly was a Blagojevich friend and fundraiser and he committed suicide before going on trial in the case although he was indicted and convicted in other cases. Then there's Blagojevich's brother, Robert. Prosecutors dropped the charges against him after the first trial because many of the jurors found him a sympathetic character.

(AP Photo/file)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 07, 2011

Judge Orders Northwestern Students to Turn Over Emails

A Cook County judge has ordered Northwestern University journalism students to give more than 500 emails to prosecutors. The emails detail efforts by students to free a man they believe was wrongfully convicted.

Northwestern has argued the information gathered by students is protected under the Illinois Reporter's Privilege Act. But Judge Diane Cannon ruled students were acting as investigators in a criminal proceeding and that makes the emails "subject to the rules of discovery." Prosecutors are looking for emails between former journalism professor David Protess and students discussing the conviction of Anthony McKinney, who is currently serving a life sentence.

Evan Benn is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was one of the Northwestern students working on the project. He said he has disappointed in the ruling.

"But if it means the case will move forward and we can get past this subpoena issue and finally dig toward the innocence of Anthony McKinney," Benn said. "Then I welcome today's ruling, and hope that it moves forward."

In a statement, Protess said his students were investigating the case for two years before any attorneys got involved. He said all decisions were made at the school without the influence of lawyers.

Northwestern has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling. A statement from the school says it will review a written statement from the judge and will evaluate its options.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 07, 2011

Former Gov. Thompson Says US Still Vulnerable to Another Attack

The United States has become complacent regarding homeland security since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson.

Thompson, who served as a member of the 9/11 Commission, said the urgency after Sept. 11 is gone, which he said is mostly due to no major attacks occurring since 9/11.

"It's easy to lose the advantage of recollection memory and easy to put this issue aside when nothing bad has happened," Thompson said. "But you can't because there will be another attack, somewhere in the country."

Thompson predicts that another attack wouldn't involve airliners crashing into buildings. Instead. he said it is more likely to be a simple plot more easily carried out.

He said the ten year anniversary of the attacks should be a time to take stock of national security. The 9/11 Commission issued a recent report that listed several accomplishments over the decade, such as better air passenger screening and intelligence agencies sharing information. But many of its recommendations have yet to be implemented. Those include a dedicated radio frequency for emergency responders and limiting bureaucracy for those whose job it is to keep the country safe.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

Quinn Grants 74 Clemencies, Denies 99

Gov. Pat Quinn has granted 74 clemencies and denied 99 petitions, chipping away at a backlog of more than 2,500 cases in Illinois.

Quinn's office says that the 173 cases he addressed on Friday come from dockets ranging from 2004 to 2007. More than 2,500 clemency cases built up under Quinn's predecessor, ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Quinn has acted on 1,529 clemency petitions since taking office. He has granted 591 and denied 938.

Clemency has been in the spotlight since former Republican Gov. George Ryan pardoned several people on death row and commuted sentences of others before leaving office in 2003.

Quinn recently signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois and commuted the sentences of all 15 men who remained on death row.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2011

Illinois Police to Set Up Check Points to Catch Drunk Drivers

Illinois State Police officials are warning drivers cops will be out in full force this holiday weekend.

About 100 roadside safety checks are scheduled across the state in an effort to crack down on drunk driving. Over the past five Labor Days, 25 people have died from drunk drivers in Illinois.

Bob Park, with the state's Department of Transportation, said the number of fatalities from drunk drivers over the holiday weekend have dropped over recent decades.

"The culture has changed," Park said. "When you take a look at the statistics and you look at the death rate, I mean, having the lowest death rate sinec the 1920s, obviously what we're doing is working."

Police warn that most drunk driving incidents happen at night. Drivers caught under the influence could face jail time or have their license suspended.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2011

Possible Deal with Wrigley Bomb Suspect

Federal prosecutors say they have discussed a possible plea deal for a Lebanese immigrant accused of placing a backpack he thought contained a bomb near Chicago's Wrigley Field last year.

Prosecutors didn't elaborate when they told Judge Robert Gettleman at a Thursday status hearing in Chicago that they've been talking to defense lawyers about resolving the case before it gets to trial.

Sami Samir Hassoun has pleaded not guilty, including to attempted use a weapon of mass destruction. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Prosecutors accuse the 23-year-old man of taking a fake bomb given to him by undercover FBI agents, then dropping it in a trash bin near the home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

Gettleman set a tentative trial date of Feb. 6.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2011

DOC Director Responds to Concerns About Staffing Levels

The director of the Illinois Department of Corrections disputes charges from two state senators that many state prisons fall short of proper staffing levels.

State Senators Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) and John Jones (R-Mount Vernon) say that numbers obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the ratio of inmates to security staff is reaching dangerous levels at some prisons. But state Corrections Director Tony Godinez said the numbers lack the context of the different conditions at each facility --- based on security level, building design, inmate population and the quality of training given the security staff.

"We will have enough staff, no matter what, because we have established what our minimal staffing patterns should be. We will not go below that," Godinez said. "In addition to that, my comfort level is more so with the fact that our staff is the best and they're the best trained."

Senators Cultra and Jones had also expressed concerns about whether enough new guards were being trained to replace those who would soon be eligible for retirement.

According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, roughly 800 recently trained guards have been hired in the past year, and new cadet training sessions will be scheduled later in fiscal year 2012.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2011

Illinois Lawmakers Criticize Prison Staffing Levels

Two downstate state Senators are calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to improve staffing levels at state prisons.

Senators Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) and John O. Jones (R-Mount Vernon) say staff-to-inmate levels are at disturbing levels. For instance, they say the first shift inmate-to-guard ratio at the medium security Decatur state prison is around 12 to 1.

Jones said that might be acceptable, but not the 18-to-1 First Shift ratios at the Big Muddy River state prison. The figures come from the state Department of Corrections through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Senator Cultra said matters will only get worse, as nearly a thousand guards become eligible for retirement next year --- with no plans announced for new cadet training. The Onarga Republican said that is why they are trying to put pressure on Governor Quinn.

"Maybe it will move the administration to take some action," Cultra said. "We would like to work with the administration to help alleviate this. And we think by making it aware publically, that maybe it might push (him) into some action."

Cultra said he is worried about a high number of prison guards nearing retirement age --- when there might not be enough new guards to take their place.

"There's no cadet classes scheduled," he said. "This fiscal year, they have a potential of having 1,000 guards retire. There's nobody to replace these people. So the numbers that you're looking at now are terrible --- it's going to be much worse when these retirements come about."

Cultra and Jones say the state could afford more prison guards if they make cuts in less essential state programs, and sell off non-essential state properties. They also suggest the state institute reforms in the Department of Corrections, like time-keeping hardware.

But the Department of Corrections said the numbers cited by the two senators are inaccurate. According to the department, around 800 newly trained guards have been hired over the past fiscal year --- and that plans are in the works to hold more guard training sessions in the current fiscal year.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 19, 2011

Champaign Police Chief Stepping Down

The city of Champaign will start looking for a new police chief to take over when current chief R.T. Finney retires.

Finney has announced his decision to step down Jan. 20, 2012. In a press release, Finney said he is leaving with joy and trepidation after more than 30 years in the law enforcement profession. He became chief of police in Carbondale in 1999 and took the top post in Champaign four years later.

"I entered into law enforcement over 30 years ago as a civilian employee and since that time I have enjoyed working in every facet and position that law enforcement has to offer," Finney said in a statement.

Champaign city manager Steve Carter said Finney managed to help the police department earn its first accreditation and boost police community relations.

"We probably are doing a lot more as a police department in terms of trying to reach out to the community now than we ever have," Carter said. "R.T. has been very supportive of expanding those outreach efforts in the community."

Finney was one of the first two officers to respond to the incident that led to the 2009 police-shooting death of teenager Kiwane Carrington. Carter said efforts to improve citizens' image of police continue.

Carter noted that a search for Finney's successor will begin immediately, though a new chief might not be in place by the time Finney retires.

(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)


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