Illinois

John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA)

Budget

$805,000 (2022)

Staffing

7 staff members

State Prison Profile

Illinois has 34 state prison facilities subject to JHA oversight, including prisons, reentry centers, work camps, and transitional centers, and incarcerates approximately 28,000 people in state prisons. The state prison system is run by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). JHA also monitors Illinois’ juvenile facilities.

Authority

 JHA does not have formal statutory authority for its oversight work. However, it has an informal, longstanding arrangement with the IDOC that allows it to conduct its monitoring activities.

  • Per the Illinois Administrative Code, JHA is a privileged mail sender and recipient, meaning that JHA communications with people who are incarcerated are protected in the same manner as legal mail. 

Activities

JHA works to increase oversight and transparency in IDOC facilities by conducting monitoring visits, collecting the concerns of incarcerated people and prison staff through surveys and privileged communications, analyzing data on Illinois prisons, and publishing public reports on their findings. 

  • Monitoring: JHA staff conduct monitoring visits to IDOC facilities, averaging 20 visits per year. During visits, JHA staff tour facilities and speak with people who are incarcerated, as well as prison administrators and staff. JHA also collects anonymous surveys on prison conditions from people who are incarcerated during their monitoring visits and via mail. Volunteers and stakeholders often join JHA staff on monitoring visits.
  • Prison Communications: JHA receives privileged letters from incarcerated individuals as well as email and phone calls from their family members. JHA codes and tracks concerns raised in those communications and uses this information to identify trends, spot new problems, and inform monitoring efforts. JHA does not provide individual representation or advocacy, but does respond to every communication. Due to volume, JHA cannot fulfill individual requests for information, but provides incarcerated individuals with relevant information for their queries when possible.
  • Advocacy: JHA advocates for humane prison conditions and increased transparency of prison practices and policies. JHA uses ongoing informal conversations with the IDOC to collect data and information and advocate for changes to policies and practices. JHA also uses more formal initiatives, like drafting and supporting legislation, to advocate for change to the state prison system.

Reports

Monitoring Reports; Special Reports. Publicly available here

  • Monitoring Reports: Regularly published, public reports on issues in individual IDOC facilities. These reports include information from monitoring visits, surveys, interviews with incarcerated people, staff, and prison administrators, correspondence, and IDOC information. 
  • Special Reports: JHA publishes special reports focused on specific, often system-wide policy issues. These reports can include case studies and particularly important or impactful stories.

Organizational History

JHA was founded in 1901 as the Central Howard Association to act as the public eyes and ears inside of Illinois prisons. In 1946, the organization renamed itself after John Howard, who is considered the father of prison reform for his work to document and ameliorate inhumane conditions in 18th-century English and European prisons. In recent years, JHA’s has implemented more professionalized systems for monitoring and advocacy has become a more substantial and organized part of JHA’s work.

Special Note

JHA is one of only three non-governmental prison oversight organizations in the United States, along with the Pennsylvania Prison Society and the Correctional Association of New York.