Lee V. Gaines

Reporter - Education

Lee V. Gaines is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, Crain’sthe Pacific Standard and the Marshall Project. She also recently completed a fellowship with Chicago non-profit journalism lab, City Bureau. 

Lee has more than six years of experience producing breaking news, magazine-length feature stories and investigative reports on subjects including education, the medical marijuana industry, criminal justice reform, social justice, local and regional politics, in addition to stories about Chicago’s thriving music and arts scene. 

A Rhode Island native, Lee began her career as a staff reporter for GateHouse Media New England covering the Boston suburbs.

Lee reports on education from Illinois Public Media as part of the Illinois Newsroom regional journalism collaborative.

Marisa Hardwick isn’t surprised there are now more than twice as many cases of COVID-19 on the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus than previously predicted by university researchers.

Christine Herman/Illinois Newsroom

URBANA – About a thousand students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have tested positive for COVID-19 since twice-a-week coronavirus testing became mandatory for all students on Aug. 16.

Illinois Newsroom

  URBANA – Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created a saliva-based  COVID-19 test. 

During a webinar hosted Tuesday by U of I Chancellor Robert Jones and other university staff, Martin Burke, a U of I chemistry professor, announced that they had the capacity to test up to 10,000 people per day. 

Reginald Hardwick/Illinois Newsroom

As University of Illinois officials deliberate over how to reopen the Urbana campus this fall, a group of faculty members say they don’t believe the university can safely allow tens of thousands of students back into residence halls and classrooms this year. 

Prospective undergraduate students applying to the University of Illinois’ three campuses won’t be asked about their criminal histories until after they’ve been admitted.

Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Newsroom

Yuliana Quintana worries she won’t succeed in college because she didn’t have access to lab equipment, Advanced Placement classes, and other resources during her high school years.

Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Newsroom

When Francisco Gamino arrived at Parkland College four years ago, he didn’t know how to balance work and find the time he needed to study.

Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Newsroom

The Illinois Department of Corrections will implement a new publication review policy in October. The change comes after staff at the Danville Correctional Center removed more than 200 books from a college-in-prison program’s library at the facility earlier this year. 

Courtesy of the Education Justice Project

Lance Pittman arrived at the Danville Correctional Center on Jan. 10 with multiple boxes of books, and bound printouts of articles and book chapters. Pittman coordinates a college in prison program called the Education Justice Project, which offers University of Illinois classes to a select group of men at the Danville prison. 

Maximillian Curry

Dianne Gordon, a mom who lives in Champaign, knew something was wrong with her daughter Rory the minute she stepped off the school bus one afternoon in April. 

Courtesy of the Education Justice Project

The new director of the Illinois Department of Corrections said during a legislative hearing in Chicago on Monday that the agency plans to revise its policy regarding what books can and cannot enter the prison. 

Jim Larrison/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is cosponsoring legislation that would rollback one of the provisions of the 1994 crime bill. It’s called the Restoring Education and Learning Act— or REAL Act. The bill would restore Pell Grant eligibility to people incarcerated in state and federal prisons.

Lee V. Gaines

Illinois lawmakers plan to ask state prison officials why more than 200 books were removed from a college in prison program’s library at the Danville Correctional Center earlier this year.

Jeff Pearcy

Augie Torres said he missed between seven and 10 job interviews when he was released from prison in October 2014 because he was on an electronic monitor that barred him from leaving home except for certain hours three days per week.

Torres, who grew up near the northwest Illinois-Iowa border, was incarcerated at age 16. He was convicted of a murder charge and spent two decades in Illinois state prisons.

Tiffany A. Bloomfield

Last week, Illinois Newsroom reported on the removal of more than 200 books from the shelves of a college in prison program’s library inside the Danville Correctional Center in east-central Illinois. The Education Justice Project offers University of Illinois classes to men at the prison.

 

Lee V. Gaines

 

When she found out that staff at the Danville Correctional Center had removed more than 200 books from a library inside the prison’s education wing, Rebecca Ginsburg said she felt a pit in her stomach.

“I felt sick,” she said. Ginsburg directs the Education Justice Project, a college in prison program that offers University of Illinois classes to men incarcerated at the Danville prison in east-central Illinois. In late January, prison staff removed dozens of titles from two rooms that serve as the program’s library.

Johnson/The Night Ministry

Just because someone has four walls around them every night, that doesn’t mean they’re housed. That’s what Paul Hamann believes. He’s the president and CEO of the Night Ministry, a Chicago-based non-profit that provides shelter and healthcare services to the homeless.

Hamann said he knows young people who sleep at friends’ homes every night. They’re able to take a shower, and they go to school the next day.

“You would never think that they are homeless, but they are,” Hamann said.

Sebastián Hidalgo

 

Johnny Page saw something as a child that no young person should ever see.

“I witnessed my cousin being killed when I was maybe six, seven-years-old,” he said. Page said he was traumatized by the experience. He said he was overcome by a need to protect his family and friends. He became a fighter.  

Lee V. Gaines

Melissa Esparza fled her home in west suburban Chicago two years ago. Then 16, she said her parents became physically violent after years of verbal abuse.

 

“One day, my mom and I were having an argument, and it turned into the day that she ended up hitting me, pulling some of my hair out. She punched me, scratched me and I had scratches all over me,” Esparza said.

TAMARA CUBRILO FOR IL NEWSROOM

Last summer, Chantil was forced to leave the townhome she shared with her two daughters and her mother in Des Plaines. (We’re withholding Chantil’s last name to protect her family’s privacy.) Her landlord wanted to sell the building, and Chantil had only about a month to find a new home. Landlords, however, kept turning her down because of her credit, and her income. Chantil makes $12 an hour at a department store.

 

Micol Siegel

Nicole Davis said her uncle was diagnosed with late-stage cancer after his release from prison in 2014. He was confined to his home because of an electronic monitoring device strapped to his ankle. He missed many necessary doctor appointments before he died, Davis said. She said that’s because he couldn’t get permission from his parole officer for the medical visits.

“Those parole officers would not return my call, they had no sympathy for my uncle,” she told the house judiciary committee last week.

US Dept of Education

Illinois could save millions of dollars on incarceration costs if the federal ban on Pell Grants for inmates was lifted, according to a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice. Pell Grants are awarded to low-income undergraduate students to help them pay for college.

A lawsuit filed Monday in federal court includes numerous allegations of racial harassment of black employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The plaintiffs allege in court documents racial harassment is U of I’s “standard operating procedure.”

Black employees at the U of I were “exposed to threats of racial violence, such as nooses, swastikas, KKK garb, racist graffiti, and confederate flags,” according to the lawsuit.

Sarah Edwards/Illinois Public Media

Perry Cline’s story is a remarkable one. He’s a formerly incarcerated 51-year-old man who overcame the odds to graduate from the University of Illinois last month.

 

This is a follow-up to last week’s story about Cline and what it took for him to achieve his academic goals.

 

We felt it important to give Cline the space and a platform to tell that story himself — both in video and through a longer audio story.

Sarah Edwards

Like many people coming out of prison, Perry Cline never thought he’d get a college degree.

 

“I thought I was just going to be another bum in the streets,” he said. “So I thank God that he got something else for me. And this is just the beginning.”

Travis Stansel/Illinois Public Media

Last spring, Illinois Newsroom reported that the Illinois Department of Corrections spent less than $300 on books for all of its prisons the prior year. In a recent interview, IDOC Director John Baldwin said state lawmakers dictate how the agency spends its money.

Data Source: Illinois Department of Corrections

Illinois Newsroom

Four years ago, Chris Miner decided to apply to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Then 40-years-old, Miner was encouraged to apply by a counselor at the community college he attended. He was told he was a shoo-in.

He sat down at his computer and started the application. But then Miner faced this question: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

“I just sat there and stared at the screen for like 10 minutes,” he said. “It was like everything, every advancement I had made so far might be over with, maybe this is the end of the ride.”

Illinois Newsroom

The push to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois could get a jump-start early next year. State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said this week she plans to introduce legislation early next year to tax and regulate the use and sale of marijuana. Incoming Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker campaigned on a pro-legalization platform, and House Speaker Michael Madigan has expressed support for Pritzker’s plan.

Travis Stansel

Earlier this year, I reported for Illinois Newsroom that the Illinois Department of Corrections spent less than $300 on books for its educational programs across more than two dozen state prisons last year. I also reported that figure represents a dramatic decrease in spending since the early 2000s when IDOC was spending roughly three-quarters of a million dollars per year on books in prisons.

Tamara Cubrilo for IL Newsroom

Lily Furgeson had a great experience in sex ed in middle school. Furgeson, who is a 17-year-old senior at a Chicago Public Schools high school, said her eighth grade sex ed teacher made sure to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities as part of their curriculum.

 

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