August 23, 2021 – Chicago, Il.
We applaud Governor JB Pritzker, Senator Laura Fine, Representative Robyn Gabel, and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) for their partnership in taking a step towards better supporting families with incarcerated loved ones. Senate Bill 1976 was signed into law on August 20, 2021, after unanimously passing through the Illinois House and Senate.
Senate Bill 1976 creates a Family Liaison within IDOC to receive complaints, suggestions, and requests from visitors and help to resolve issues. Previously, those with incarcerated loved ones had to rely on the staff at a particular facility to address visitation issues, including conflicts over visitation rules, concerns with staff behavior, or questions. These same staff members may have been directly involved in the issue.
One family member explained the significance of this bill by recalling an earlier experience when they needed help. “I drove 6 plus hours to visit my son and I brought his brother to see him. We had not seen him in over a year. The officer at the front desk stated my 12-year-old son needed a state ID even though it isn’t part of IDOC’s policy. I had brought his birth certificate but that was not enough. When I asked to speak to a supervisor I was told, ‘I am the supervisor.’ I had to turn around and drive home without seeing my son. I wish I would have had someone I could call.”
Visits can also be stressful and humiliating for families. Another family member shared, “They gave my friend a stapler to staple her blouse closed because they felt it showed too much of her collarbone. Yet, they denied another woman her visit for the same thing.”
Regular in-person visits have substantial benefits to people who are incarcerated as well as their families. Senator Laura Fine and Representative Robyn Gabel sponsored Senate Bill 1976. These legislators are champions of families and understand the importance of visits to promote rehabilitation, successful reentry, and increasing family stability.
Restore Justice works to improve prison conditions that erode human dignity. Many of our staff and board members are formerly incarcerated people or have loved ones in prison today. Our team visits people incarcerated in Illinois prisons, and we fund an annual bus trip for family members to visit loved ones at Menard Correctional Center, which is 350 miles from Chicago. Our staff, family network, and board members conduct more than 200 visits to people in Illinois prisons each year.
Restore Justice, which comprises Restore Justice Foundation and Restore Justice Illinois, works to address issues faced by those serving life or de-facto life sentences, their families, and their communities. Founded in 2015 by a dedicated group of advocates that included the late former Congressman, Federal Judge, and White House Counsel Abner Mikva, Restore Justice trains and supports advocates, conducts research, nurtures partnerships, and develops policy solutions that will roll back ineffective “tough on crime” policies of the past, replacing them with compassionate, smart, and safe policies for the future.