Truth About John Howard Association

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 Register reported:

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.

 

Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee Hearing on the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act

Video of the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee hearing on the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, which would severely limit the use of solitary confinement in Illinois – April 20, 2016

Speakers include:

Alan Mills, Executive Director, Uptown People’s Law Center

Brian Nelson, Prisoners Rights Coordinator, Uptown People’s Law Center

Lee Anne Schultz, her husband Gerard spent a long time in solitary

Geraldine Smith

Gregory Koger

Monica Cosby

 

Yes, I know the video quality leaves a lot to be desired, but it is what it is…

Ending the Torture of Solitary Confinement In Illinois

Solitary confinement is categorically condemned as a form of torture by the United Nations, yet the United States has perfected its coldly inhuman use in supermax prisons, SHUs and segregation units throughout the country. The use of solitary confinement is intimately interconnected with the white supremacist implementation of mass incarceration and New Jim Crow laws targeting principally Black and Brown youth – who this system has utterly failed and has no future for – condemning them to a life of harassment by police and incarceration unprecedented in human history.

Imagine locking yourself in your bathroom for a week, a month, a year, a decade. Imagine never seeing the sun for years. Imagine never being able to touch or hug your loved ones for years. That might give you a small glimpse into what it would be like to be locked in solitary confinement, yet it would be much more comfortable in many ways than being in those cells.

I spent many years in solitary confinement in Illinois prisons. In fact, before I was even convicted I went to trial as a seventeen year old charged as an adult from solitary confinement in the county jail.

Due to the heroic struggles of the Pelican Bay and California prison hunger strikers and the work of many people in recent years protesting and exposing the pervasive use of torture by the United States government, there is now momentum pushing the rulers of this system to back away from the use of this torture practice.

In Illinois, we may have a unique opportunity to drastically limit the use of solitary confinement. A recent bill has been introduced by Rep. LaShawn Ford to limit the use of isolation to 5 days, currently named the “Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.” As currently written, this bill would restrict the use of isolation to 5 days at a time during any 150 day period, and incorporates a number of restrictions.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t participate in electoral politics. This bill will on its face severely restrict the use of solitary confinement and remove from the Illinois Department of Corrections and Sheriffs in County Jails, and any private prison or detention center in the state of Illinois the ability to formally use State-sanctioned torture in the form of solitary confinement. As long as this bill remains true to its current form and intentions, I can do nothing but support it and work to ensure that it passes so that those still languishing in those cells where I spent over six years straight in solitary confinement will no longer be subjected to that form of torture.

Our understanding is that this bill may move rather quickly and be put to a vote by May. There are several hearings scheduled, one in March and one in April, which I will convey the further details of once I have the exact information. Mobilizing people to come out to those hearings and to to convey to both the public at large as well as the representatives of the government of the State of Illinois that we will no longer allow the practice of torture in the form of solitary confinement will be imperative.

I generally ask very little of my friends, comrades, and supporters. Supporting this struggle to end solitary confinement in Illinois is one thing that I am asking that you step up and be part of.

We will have more details to convey as they become available. But we, those of us who have survived the horrors of long-term solitary confinement and live with the aftermath every moment of every day, are committed to ensuring that our brothers and sisters who remain there are no longer subjected to this torture.

Gregory Koger

March 3, 2016

Letter from my Friend and Comrade Brian Nelson on Ending Solitary Confinement in Illinois:

Over the past several years, I have spoken at numerous Universities and other forums about the torture I endured in solitary confinement. There is no doubt that solitary confinement is torture and has taken a terrible toll on my life. Anyone that has seen me talk have seen the affects first hand and understand why we need to join together in this fight to stop these horrific acts of torture. Some have asked me why I continually put myself through the torment of reliving solitary when I talk about it. First off, I believe that nobody should ever have to endure the evil treatment I endured. Second, no mother, wife, parent, child or friend should be tormented by seeing what solitary confinement does to their loved one. Have no doubt that my mother was tortured just by looking at me. Thirdly, solitary confinement is morally wrong and so barbaric that most of the countries in the world have outlawed its use and condemn the United States for the use of solitary and its overuse.

The United States government has admitted that they have no idea who is in solitary confinement in the Federal Prison system, nor why they are there, how long they have been there, or if they will ever be released. Recently, the federal government has restricted the use of solitary on juveniles and mentally ill prisoners. Unfortunately, this only applies to the federal prison system not the states and it is the states that hold most of the prisoners in solitary! We need to work to protect the millions of individuals incarcerated in the state penal systems.

I have been asked hundreds of times, “What can we do to stop this?” Well, I finally have an answer. Illinois State Representative Ford has entered a bill to restrict the use of solitary and he needs us to help educate the public about the evils of solitary confinement. Representative Ford needs us to form groups to lobby our local Representatives and State Senators to support this bill. I am appealing to everyone to help. Form a student group, create web pages, educate friends, family, and yourselves about how horrific and destructive solitary confinement is upon a person’s mind!

I am positive you have hundreds of other ideas. I will help anyway I can. Just let me know the best way I can help you in this fight. As I have said numerous times, you are the future and you can change this. I firmly believe that you can do this and a lot more.

Please help stop this evil and horrific torture that is being unjustly inflicted upon human beings. THANK YOU!

Brian Nelson – Prisoners’ Rights Coordinator, Uptown People’s Law Center

Solitary Confinement In Illinois: Facts & Demands

FACTS:

  1. Solitary confinement in excess of 15 days amounts to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and can rise to the level of torture1 – Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
  2. “In the United States, more than 80,000 people are being held in solitary confinement, often in miserable conditions, for periods of time that qualify as torture.2
  3. In Illinois, the current maximum amount of time a person can be held in solitary confinement is an indeterminate period of time. There is no limit on how long the State of Illinois can hold a person in solitary confinement, and many are held for periods of time that constitute torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  4. Torture is a crime.
  5. The State of Illinois is currently holding an unknown but knowable number of people in isolation under conditions that constitute torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  6. The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act would prohibit the state-sanctioned use of torture in the form of solitary confinement, by limiting the maximum number of days a person can be held in isolation to 5 in any 150 day period.

DEMANDS:

  1. The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act must be passed and implemented immediately.
  2. Survivors of the state-sanctioned use of torture in the form of solitary confinement must be provided reparations and treatment.

 

1 Can International Laws and Standards Help Curb Solitary Confinement in the United States? By AYLIN MANDURIC AUGUST 6, 2015
2 Id.

Download Solitary Confinement in Illinois: Facts & Demands PDF

Supporters of the bill include:
• Torture Survivors Against Solitary
Uptown People’s Law Center
Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights
• Illinois Coalition Against Torture
• United Voices for Prisoners
• Black and Pink Chicago
• Eighth Day Center for Justice
• A Just Harvest
• Cabrini Green Legal Aid
• National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago
• Sage Community Health Collective
• Communities & Relatives of Illinois Incarcerated Children

Sign the Petition Supporting the Bill Here