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Lawsuits, Crumbling Buildings, And Other Problems Await Illinois' New Prison Director

Stateville Correctional Center
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Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois

Governor J.B. Pritzker has nominated an Ohio prison official to lead the Illinois Department of Corrections.

It’s one of the toughest jobs in state government. And when Rob Jeffreys starts work June 1, he’ll immediately become the lead defendant in a number of lawsuits.

One of them is being pursued by Camille Bennett, with the ACLU of Illinois. She argues Illinois' prison health care is so bad, its unconstitutional.

“They really need to improve the medical and dental care for the prisoners in the Department of Corrections,” Bennett said in a telephone interview. “People are suffering, and have been suffering, for many years.”

Illinois is also under court order to improve treatment of inmates with mental health disorders. Bennett says there are physical problems, too.

“The infrastructure of the system is really in disrepair, and buildings are sort of literally falling down,” Bennett said. “There was a building at Menard (Correctional Center) that collapsed not long ago.”

With more than 12,000 employees, the Illinois Department of Corrections is the second-largest agency in Illinois government. It’s among the final major cabinet appointments by Pritzker; he’d kept John Baldwin, former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s head of corrections, on the job so far.

The inmate population has shrunk significantly in recent years — but Illinois prisons are still considered well over capacity.

Jeffreys has been with the Ohio prison system for more than two decades, where he’s been a warden, regional manager, and is currently chief of staff.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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