August 11, 2016: JHA Public Comment on Proposed Rule Changes by the Illinois Department of Corrections

John Howard Association
Public Comment
Proposed Rule Changes by the Illinois Department of Corrections
July 1, 2016
20 Ill. Adm. Code 504; 40 Ill. Reg. 8628

For over 100 years, the John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) has served the people of the State of Illinois by providing crucial independent oversight of the correctional policies and practices employed in our state. JHA supports the proposed changes to 20 Ill. Adm. Code 504 filed by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) on July 1, 2016. If adopted by this committee, the proposed rules changes will be an important and constructive initial effort to reform IDOC’s policies related to solitary confinement. These efforts must be furthered. JHA continues to recommend that IDOC adopt the recommendations put forth in the Department of Justice’s January 2016 Guiding Principles for Use of Restrictive Housing.[1] The July 1, 2016 proposed rule changes codify necessary reforms, newly instituted practices, and existing legal obligations, yet unquestionably do not address all concerns related to IDOC policy on Discipline and Grievance issues. Additional improvements to 20 Ill. Adm. Code 504 remain important and necessary, in particular relating to the grievance procedure, which is of great concern and is not demonstrably changed by these proposed rule changes. However, these proposed changes will provide many inmates with relief and quickly reform practices in facilities, and should be implemented as soon as possible.

  • The proposed rule changes eliminate the possibility of segregation as a sanction for minor rule violations for all inmates. In 2011, the Vera Institute of Justice published a study, Quantitative Findings on Use and Outcomes of Segregation in IL DOC, which found in IDOC 85 percent of violations resulting in segregation terms were for minor tickets (300 or 400 series rule violations).[2] Thus, this is a reform that will benefit a sizeable portion of inmates in IDOC custody by formally eliminating the use of solitary confinement as a response to minor rule violations, thereby substantially reducing IDOC’s overreliance upon segregation overall.
  • The changes that will increase opportunities for inmates to satisfy basic hygienic needs such as showering, and increase the frequency of and amount of required out-of-cell time for inmates in segregation are important and necessary. Inmates housed in segregation, including those in investigative status, often report infrequent showers and lack of out-of-cell time among their chief concerns. These inmates will immediately benefit from this change being instituted across all Agency facilities. JHA has repeatedly noted that the existing IDOC standard for inmates housed in segregation that offers just five hours of recreation (which may be provided just once a week) and having this minimum apply only after 90 days is highly problematic, inhumane, and far more restrictive than what is practiced by other correctional facilities and systems, particularly in settings where lockdowns or other issues would eliminate even this limited recreation opportunity. While JHA views this rule change as a move in the right direction, it falls short of requiring that inmates will presumptively be placed in the least restrictive housing setting required or mandating out-of-cell time to be at least three hours a day and with a maximum of 22 hours a day in-cell. There should be a presumptive minimum standard applied to inmates in IDOC custody and only used as a standard level of in-cell restriction when institutional safety and security concerns warrant such restrictive housing. We again encourage IDOC to surpass this minimum and afford all inmates more out-of-cell time as a matter of course.
  • Reducing maximum segregation terms that can be imposed for most major rule violations (100 or 200 series rule violations) is a move in the right direction, but will still result in unnecessarily long terms of segregation for too many inmates. JHA recommends that IDOC continue to consider further reductions in the maximum segregation terms allowed for major rule violations, and should permit any inmate who is subjected to a segregation term of one month or more a meaningful opportunity to substantially reduce their segregation term by demonstrating good behavior via a process that is fair and timely.
  • One new provision in the proposed rule changes, Section 504.680, Release from Disciplinary Segregation, attempts to address concerns regarding inmates being released directly from an isolated status to the streets, as commonly occurs in Illinois. We commend the Agency for acknowledging the need to address this issue by providing such inmates with a step-down opportunity, or minimally, enhanced transitional resources, and urge IDOC to bolster reentry support efforts for inmates beyond the terms of this provision.
  • The proposed rule changes address concerns about defining and treating inmates suffering from mental illness, and incorporate terms from the settlement stemming from the mental health litigation, Rasho v. Baldwin, 07-cv-1298 (C.D. Ill., Judge Mihm) (Rasho), into the Administrative Code. These proposed changes include: defining how inmates will be identified as seriously mentally ill (SMI), requiring consideration of SMI status as a factor for determining disciplinary sanctions, requiring that SMI inmates be reviewed by a mental health professional (MHP) within 48 hours when placed in segregation or investigation status, requiring that an MHP’s recommendation be considered in a determination of continued segregation placement, and requiring a MHP to conduct rounds every seven days in segregation.[3] Additionally, the Rasho settlement requires that treatment plans be continued, though they may be modified, in any setting. JHA notes that best practice would be to institute a uniform rule requiring a mental health review of any inmate placed in segregation, have this review occur within a shorter timeframe, and require more frequent rounds by mental health staff, which we urge IDOC to do. The changes that are articulated in the proposed rules are now mandated by the settlement agreement and should be appropriately reflected in Agency rules, though treated as minimum requirements.
  • In order to further family engagement, which supports successful reentry for inmates as well as promotes positive behavior inside prison, restrictions on inmate communications via telephone or visits with people from outside of prison should be limited and only used where a punishment is directly related to an abuse of the privilege, and any such restrictions should be implemented incrementally. JHA believes that the absolute ban of phone calls for “C” grade inmates (entailing everyone in segregation) and any policy of across the board un-individualized restrictions, paints in too broad strokes and should be revisited. While such communication restrictions are not new policy, they are ripe for review.
  • The proposed rule changes related to the inmate grievance process lack the substantive changes required to ensure that inmates in the custody of IDOC have a reliable process through which their legitimate concerns may be effectively documented and remedied. JHA continues to recommend that IDOC provide inmates with receipts for grievances filed, in addition to implementing further reforms to improve the grievance process. JHA also suggests that IDOC comport with the findings and recommendations put forth in a 2014 report of the Special Assistant Auditors for the Auditor General of the State of Illinois related to the grievance process.[4] Auditors determined that IDOC was not in compliance with inmate grievance procedures and recommended that the department maintain adequate records related to grievances, and ensure that inmates are fully informed as to the procedure for filing grievances.

 

While more changes are needed to ensure that inmates in Illinois consistently receive treatment that is fair, safe, and humane, and that effective correctional policies and practices are in place, these proposed changes are an important step in the right direction. We hope that these changes lay a foundation for increased examination of outdated and counterproductive policies that impede Illinois’ ability to improve our system and outcomes. Adoption of long overdue legislative reforms to Illinois’ criminal code and Agency implementation of policies that will reduce the overuse of incarceration in Illinois will also allow the Department to further increase out-of-cell time for inmates and will enable the Department to better provide rehabilitative programming to the inmates that need it the most, so they are in a better position to succeed when they return to our communities. JHA supports changes within IDOC that move Illinois towards a more just and effective system and will continue to push for greater improvements.

[1] The Department of Justice’s January 2016 Guiding Principles for Use of Restrictive Housing, https://www.justice.gov/dag/file/815556/download. See also, JHA’s May 2016 Statement on Illinois’ Use of Solitary Confinement, http://thejha.org/node/329.

[2] See IDOC January 30, 2012 Advisory Board Minutes, https://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/aboutus/advisoryboard/Pages/default.aspx.

[3] Note that the Rasho Amended Settlement Agreement requires that mental health professionals review “any mentally ill inmate,” not just those already designated as SMI, within 48 hours of placement. Perhaps IDOC’s proposed rule changes presume any inmate identified as mentally ill also will demonstrate the necessary impaired level of functioning to be classified as SMI if they find themselves in a restrictive status.

[4]“Department-Wide Financial Audit for the Year Ended June 30, 2014 and Compliance Examination for the Two Years Ended June 30, 2014,” http://www.auditor.illinois.gov/Audit-Reports/Compliance-Agency-List/Corrections/FY14-Corrections-Fin-Comp-Full.pdf.