Earlier this year the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act was introduced in the Illinois legislature. This bill, which was drafted in conjunction with a number of groups who oppose torture and the deplorable conditions in US prisons, would have severely restricted the use of solitary confinement in all prisons, jails, immigrant detention prisons etc in Illinois by reducing the amount of time any person could be held in isolation to 5 days in any 6 month period.
This bill had bipartisan support and a number of torture survivors who spent many years in solitary confinement in Illinois, as well as people with loved ones in solitary confinement, put themselves through significant retraumatization by speaking out about the conditions they faced in solitary confinement, including speaking at hearings at the Capitol in Springfield, IL.
The John Howard Association opposed the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act. The John Howard Association, in opposing a bill that would have drastically reduced solitary confinement in Illinois and would have been one of the most restrictive limitations on solitary confinement in the entire country, contacted legislators and organizations to defeat the bill. As if that weren’t bad enough, the John Howard Association used talking points that were identical to frivolous talking points put forward by the Illinois Department of Corrections, who also were vehemently against the restrictions on the use of torture in the form of solitary confinement in Illinois.
The John Howard Association has a long history of collaborating with the Illinois Department of Corrections against the interests of people incarcerated in Illinois. But the John Howard Association’s two-faced backroom machinations opposing a bill that would have drastically reduced the use of solitary confinement in Illinois is beyond reprehensible.
Those of us who have spent many years in solitary confinement under conditions that are categorically considered torture under international law, cannot remain silent in the face of this. We cannot allow an organization that collaborates with the Illinois Department of Corrections to continue to farcically misrepresent itself as a “watchdog” and raise money off the misery of men and women who they have no concern for.
For years while incarcerated I tried to get assistance from a so-called prison “watchdog” group that claims to help prisoners and is bipartisan. I spent years on a psychological experimental program called the circuit. This group told me year after year there was no such program. After a judge ruled on the conditions of the program, this group chimed in.
For over 20 years they have released reports claiming that they help prisoners and their families when in fact they allow the Illinois Department of Corrections to review the reports prior to releasing them. Donors mistakenly give large donations to this group believing they actually do something to help prisoners and change the prison system in Illinois. This is completely false. They collect money, write reports and that’s it! Another twist is look at the history of JHA and IDOC. Look at ranking Officials change from organization to organization.
If you remember history, IDOC Director Donald Synder (serving federal prison time) and the Director of John Howard Mike Mahoney were indicted in a kickback scheme together! Mahoney admitted to taking kick backs during his trial before Judge Zagel. As The State-Journal Registerreported:
Snyder admitted that he took $30,000 from Larry Sims, a lobbyist for two vendors. He said he pocketed up to $20,000 from two other lobbyists, former Cook County undersheriff John Robinson and Michael J. Mahoney.
Sims and Robinson have pleaded guilty. Mahoney was acquitted in a bench trial before Zagel who said he didn’t believe Snyder’s testimony.
The case drew the spotlight not only because of Snyder’s position but because Mahoney had lobbied the prison system while executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison reform organization.
At his trial, Mahoney admitted what he had done but argued that whatever the ethical lapses, he simply had not done anything illegal.
John Howard has an extensive history of telling the public that they are the only nonpartisian prison watchdog group in Illinois fighting for social reform through working with legislative system. But seeing the horrific job they did monitoring the juvenile justice at the Juvenile Detention center in Chicago shows it all. Priest openly criticizes the monitoring job as horrific. How is it they have numerous Attorneys on staff but refuse – or rather have a charter that forbids them from litigating conditions in IDOC? So donors you give donations to them and they publish reports approved by IDOC that have zero authority to enforce reforms.
For the past several years in every report published by John Howard and IDOC about a prison there is the condemnation of the overuse of solitary confinement in IDOC. Yet as the years pass nothing has ever changed. Solitary/segregation is still over used report after report. JHA makes strong recommendations for change yet that is all it is – hot air. Tamms was okayed by JHA because IDOC wanted it. Then the Governor decided to close Tamms and JHA changed their position – not because of Human Rights abuses happening at Tamms but only because of the excessive cost of having a completely solitary confinement prison. JHA never once issued a report that condemned the torture happening inside Tamms even as men cut off parts of their bodies and went crazy. The prisoner didn’t matter to JHA.
Now is 2016 and a bill was entered by Illinois Representative La Shawn Ford that would limit the use of solitary confinement. JHA at first was some what supportive and brought up every report they have written about the over use of solitary/segregation. A week later after what I can only term as talking to IDOC (I say this because of the wording) JHA used the exact same words as IDOC why this House Bill should be stopped. JHA is now against the Bill to limit the over use of solitary/segregation. Makes no sense.
So I have to ask what is the actual function of this alleged prison watch dog group. They don’t represent or help prisoners, in fact they seem to actually be another arm of IDOC. So a false representation!
Please listen to Pleasant Encounters radio show about the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, solitary confinement and the John Howard Association with formerly incarcerated host Geraldine Smith and guests Brain Nelson and Gregory Koger.