Screen capture from a TV campaign ad from State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, attacking his GOP opponent, Dave Severin, over criminal justice reform.
Friends of John Bradley
September 02, 2016

After Politician's 'Soft On Crime' Attack, Advocates Fight Back

In an era of political gridlock, one of the few topics on which there's been hope of bipartisan cooperation is on the issues of crime and punishment. Politicians have traditionally been averse to doing anything that could get them painted as being "soft on crime." It's an easy attack, and one that's been frequently deployed in the past. But this year, criminal justice reform advocates are fighting back, as in the case of an Illinois Democrat facing scare-mongering ads about criminal justice reform. 

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton smiles after speaking at the Old State House in Springfield Wednesday,
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
July 13, 2016

Clinton Calls For 'Better Listening,' Empathy In Springfield Visit

Hillary Clinton is embracing the symbolism of Abraham Lincoln's "House Divided" speech, arguing the nation needs to repair its divisions after a series of high-profile shootings. In a speech in Springfield,
Clinton said the Republican Party of Lincoln had been transformed into the "party of Trump," warning her opponent would divide Americans.

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Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a campaign rally at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Friday, March 4, 2016, in Edwardsville, Ill.
Seth Perlman/Associated Press
March 05, 2016

Sanders Brings Brand Of Economic Populism To Southern Illinois

The Democratic presidential candidate spoke Friday at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where the primarily student audience packed a 4,000-seat campus basketball arena.  Sanders touched on familiar campaign themes, calling for campaign finance reform, marijuana decriminalization and increased corporate taxes.

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Abu Anas al-Libi
(AP Photo/FBI)
October 07, 2013

U.S. Raids In Libya And Somalia Target Al-Qaida Network

More details are emerging after a pair of U.S. commando raids over the weekend that targeted alleged terrorists in Libya and Somalia.

In Libya, Abu Anas al-Libi, a top al-Qaida operative accused by Washington of involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was snatched from a street in the capital, Tripoli, in an operation on Saturday.

Eyewitnesses say al-Libi was "taken peacefully in Tripoli," NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman tells Morning Edition.

"There was no real sign of struggle," Bowman says, adding that al-Libi's brother said "he was thrown into a car that sped away."

FBI and CIA officials are said to have been involved in the snatch of al-Libi.

"There are some indications that al-Libi moved about fairly openly," Bowman says.

The Libyan government says it was not made aware of the operation, which it has called a "kidnapping," sharply criticizing the raid as a violation of Libyan sovereignty.

Secretary of State John Kerry defended the U.S. action, saying al-Libi was a "legal and appropriate target" for the U.S. military and that he will face justice in a court of law.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed officials, says al-Libi "is being interrogated while in military custody on [the USS San Antonio] ... in the Mediterranean Sea."

In the second raid, a U.S. Navy SEAL team swam ashore at a seaside villa south of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, and engaged in a fierce firefight with al-Shabab militants. The target of the U.S. raid is said to have been the senior al-Shabab leader, Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, alias Ikrima.

Attack helicopters took part in the raid, according to eyewitnesses, Bowman says. The SEALs later withdrew from the fighting, and it's not yet clear whether Ikrima was killed.

"There were some al-Shabab casualties," Bowman says. Al-Shabab says it killed some Americans, but U.S. officials say there were no casualties among the SEAL team.

NPR's Gregory Warner says Ikrima "boasts connections to both al-Shabab in Somalia and to a Kenyan jihadist group called al-Hijra. Kenyan authorities announced Friday that two of the four terrorists killed in the Westgate Mall attack were al-Hijra militants."

Ikrima is a Kenyan of Somali origin who ran groups of fighters in Somalia that have attacked churches in Kenya and used roadside bombs against civilians, Bowman says.


October 02, 2013

Early-Out Parolee Accused Of Murder Not Monitored

Lawmakers say an early prison release law doesn't need changing despite a mistake in which a parolee now charged with murder was not properly monitored. 


 
Joshua A. Jones was set free in May five months early. He was charged with a Decatur murder three months later. 
 
Documents and Associated Press interviews show Jones was supposed to be electronically monitored but was not. State prison officials say an employee faces discipline.
 
 Republican Rep. Jim Sacia of Pecatonica called the mistake "unimaginable.'' He said it shows the need for holding employees accountable.
 
Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul said a worker's error does not mean the system is flawed.
 
The lawmakers were sponsors of a 2012 early-release law that replaced one shut down in 2009 following a scandal.


September 30, 2013

Health Care Law Could Cut Down On Incarceration Rates

Tuesday marks the launch of state health insurance exchanges, a major part of the Affordable Care Act. Among the many changes likely after the new health coverage takes effect: Fewer people behind bars.

During a recent expo put on by the Illinois Department of Corrections in Champaign, Jeff Rinderle of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District talked with parolees and former prison inmates transitioning into civilian life about the Affordable Care Act.

“Have you heard about ObamaCare or healthcare reform?” Rinderle  asked. “Everyone can sign up for free or low-cost health care.”

Rinderle and others at public health worked to get people ready for new benefits under the health care law.

Johnnie Smith, 56, of Champaign stopped by Rinderle’s booth. Smith served seven and half years for residential burglary. He said he never had health insurance and hasn't qualified for Medicaid in the past.

That would change under the Affordable Care Act, Rinderle told Smith.  “You’ll qualify for Medicaid.”

Smith said before his arrest, he was not in need of mental health care, but his experience in prison changed that.

“You go through quite a few things in prison – mentally, physically,” he said. “There’s so many issues going on inside of prison that you have to deal with on a daily basis.”

Smith said getting health coverage will help him stay out of trouble.

“If I can get back on track with my mental issues from prison abuse, I might have a chance at real life,” he added.

“That is exactly what we’re thinking about,” said Gladyse Taylor, the assistant director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Taylor said inmates are getting help signing up for coverage. With more people, like Johnnie Smith, able to get care, she anticipates fewer people will wind up back behind bars.

“We want them to be able to access their medical service providers immediately upon release, and our objective is to ensure that they don’t return to custody because they’re getting immediate care and treatment,” she said.

Taylor said the process of enrolling inmates in a health plan will begin at intake. Then, three-to-six months before they are released, they will be linked to a managed care organization and primary care physician.

Inmates enrolled in a plan before incarceration will still be covered by that plan when they are released.

Donald Dawson, 45, of Champaign served about a decade in prison for a weapons charge, and for a good chunk of that time was on anti-depressants.

“I need my medicine that I was getting in prison, which I’m not getting now,” Dawson said.

After his release about four months ago, Dawson wanted psychiatric care. He turned to Community Elements, a mental health agency in Champaign.
                                                                                                         
“When I went to the Community Elements, they’re talking about eight months,” he said, referring to the wait time to see a mental health professional.

Community Elements CEO Sheila Ferguson said she knows all too well about her agency’s backlog in psychiatric care. There is a waiting list of more than 200 people – both with and without health coverage

Even with the Affordable Care Act, Ferguson said shortages in psychiatrists because of state funding cuts will not get resolved overnight.

“It’s possible that some general practitioners will begin to see more people who have psychiatric needs, but that is not growing as fast either,” Ferguson said. “So, we’ll see a backlog as probably agencies and providers start to build out and grow their services. It will take a little while.”

According to the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department, about half of the inmates in the county jail suffer from mental illness.

To make sure they get proper treatment, Community Elements has two staff members working in the jail full-time. Among the many services provided, inmates get help navigating the new health insurance exchanges.

Captain Allen Jones, the jail administrator, explained that this partnership with Community Elements helps streamline services.

“Local providers will never know that this person had a crisis or was incarcerated,” Jones said. “Now under this system, they can become aware of those that are in or out of the jail, and see how they can tailor their services to the client to maybe prevent some of these issues from arising in the future.”

Several other area providers are also working together on a Community Resource Center, which among other things, has counselors on staff who police officers can turn to as an alternative to incarceration.

The Affordable Care Act will not change the care inmates receive while incarcerated, but it could address one persistent complaint. The prison watchdog group, the John Howard Association has criticized some Illinois prisons for not having enough medical staff. The Association’s John Maki said the health care law should cut down on wait times and improve care.

“With the ACA and with the infrastructure it’ll build around the prisons, around the jails that I think is going to relieve the population, the kind of high levels of folks being sent to the prison system and in so doing,” Maki said. “It’ll enable the Department of Corrections to make better use of its limited resources.”

As the health care exchanges begin to ramp up, those who have been incarcerated, like Johnnie Smith of Champaign, say the Affordable Care Act represents one more opportunity to start fresh and stay out of prison.

“I wouldn’t have to do the Department of Corrections anymore,” he said. “That’s a fact. There wouldn’t be any more prison life. It would be a great thing.”

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