By Mary Kuhlman / The Journal Courier
Illinois houses an estimated 49,000 people in its prison system, and a recent report finds it’s one of the most overcrowded systems in the nation. In fact, only Alabama’s prisons are more crowded. The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics’ most recent census of prisoners found Illinois is operating at more than 170 percent of design capacity.
Alan Mills, attorney and executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, pointed out that the Department of Corrections budget has decreased by more than 10 percent in the past few years. He said the human impact is devastating, especially at maximum-security facilities.
“There is not enough capacity to provide programming for these folks,” he said. “There are no more education programs; there aren’t even any jobs for them to do. They simply sit there and stare at the walls, or a TV set if they are ‘lucky’ — and I put that in big quotes — enough to have one. And these are not necessarily all people in segregation.”
In response, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections Tom Shaer countered that the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics’ calculations do not include additional housing constructed since some of the prisons were originally built, or the practice of “double-celling.” He characterized the prisons as “crowded but not overcrowded.” While acknowledging that 16 women are housed in a gym, Shaer said,“There is little to no spare room, but we are able to house all our inmates safely and securely.”