June 4, 2013

Report: Illinois county jail inspections go unenforced

Red shows significant, persistent noncompliance at Illinois county jails, 2011. From CU-CitizenAccess.org.

Last year, the Center’s Rory Linnane, Tegan Wendland and Kate Golden leafed through hundreds of pages of Wisconsin county jail inspections, examining the quality of mental health care. Their December report — Ignored and underfunded, mental health care thin at county jails — revealed:

  • Wisconsin’s county-run jails are overloaded with people with mental illness — but services are largely inadequate.
  • The state Department of Corrections is charged with oversight but does not evaluate the quality of jails’ mental health care.
  • For nearly a quarter-century, the Legislature has required the DOC to collect and summarize annual reports on jails’ mental health care, but most jails have not provided the information, and the DOC acknowledges it has not been asking for them.
  • One-third of Wisconsin’s jails have been cited for inadequate suicide prevention efforts.

A new report from the Center’s collaborators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that state’s jail inspection system is also riddled with problems. From CU-CitizenAccess.org:

The inspection reports show the state has little power to ensure that deficiencies, even serious ones, are corrected in a timely fashion – or corrected at all. Indeed, there is no evidence showing that problems found by the inspections have resulted in a jail’s operations being suspended or closed.

Inspectors refer the serious problems to the director of the Department of Corrections, who then notifies the state attorney general’s office if the violations are not corrected in six months.

Although the state inspection letters routinely warn a “failure to take affirmative action may result in referral to the Office of the Illinois Attorney General,” there was no documentation showing any enforcement by the attorney general’s office.

The Wisconsin and Illinois reports were produced in collaboration with the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium, ijec.org. Funding from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation supports the consortium and its projects.