Illinois has a lengthy track record of police brutality and prison abuse. It is one of the US states where the racial bias (especially against Blacks) can be seen more clearly. Abuse by law enforcement is so rampant that Chicago has its own Torture Archive. Recently, a massive exhibit was created to remember the victims of 100 years of Chicago police brutality. But the metropolis is not the only place where police abuse occurs in the state.
Unexplained deaths in custody have been a problem for the Illinois Department of Corrections for many decades. While the official causes for inmate death are most often suicide, illness, or accident and “the state repeatedly claims over and over again that it has no fault in the deaths that occur within the walls of its institutions,” as the Illinois Death in Custody Project reports, “the pattern of neglect persists.”
Certain categories are routinely used to conceal the role of medical neglect in inmate deaths. Likewise, violent deaths, sometimes at the hands of guards, are reframed to appear as accidental. Illinois has a history of failing to protect its citizens from rogue deputies and violent fellow inmates alike.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the suicide rate among Illinois inmates doubles that of the general population. In many cases, the inmates who commit suicide are mentally ill, and they take their own lives after months or years living in isolation cells, with no treatment and no medication.
Mentally disabled inmates are not the only ones who suffer. Prisoners held at Illinois facilities have been known to die from complications of the most ordinary health problems.
In fact, Illinois spends less in per-inmate health care than 48 US states, and the private health care providers in charge of the inmates’ health are seldom worried about anything other than maximizing profits.
An investigation by a panel appointed by the state’s Department of Corrections, carried out in 2015, revealed that at least 60% of inmate deaths could be partly attributable to inadequate health care and failing medical attention. The report revealed that even low-risk patients, like diabetic inmates, had trouble receiving the appropriate medication and treatment while in custody in Illinois.
A complaint filed in Rasho v. Baldwin stated, “Illinois punishes mental illness instead of treating it.”
Under the terms of the 2015 settlement in that case, the Illinois Department of Corrections agreed to hire hundreds of mental health workers and corrections officers, renovate prisons, and build new mental health units, and limit solitary confinement hours for inmates with mental health diagnoses. Unfortunately, in spite of this promises, a few years later, not much has changed.
According to the Illinois Death in Custody Project,
“The recent legal history and state of health care in Illinois’ correctional facilities reveals a disturbing pattern of preventable death and staff attempts to cover those deaths up.”
A Culture of Torture At Chicago Police Department
The Chicago Torture Archive, a collection of over 10,000 documents, recently bore testimony to an appalling number of torture victims who suffered at the hands of Chicago police between 1972 and 1991.
During that period, at least 100 black men were tortured as a means to coerce confessions, induce them to incriminate others, and to discourage the reporting of police brutality. On several occasions, individuals were tortured while being held by police without having been arrested or informed about their rights. Torture during suspect and witness interrogations was especially prevalent in Chicago under Police Commander Jon Burge.
The Torture Reparations Fund
In 2015, the Chicago City Council established the Reparations for Burge Torture Victims ordinance to compensate “Burge victims” or victims who had credible claims of having been tortured by Burge or one of his subordinates between May, 1972 and November, 1991.
Under the ordinance, the City of Chicago set aside $5.5 million to compensate victims, setting the maximum financial reparation per victim at $100,000. Both the Fund and the Torture Archive served to put these illegal and horrendous practices under public scrutiny.
How Can I File an Inmate Death or Abuse Lawsuit in Illinois?
Victims or their families can file a civil rights lawsuit under Section 1983, which establishes that anyone who subjects or causes to be subjected, any US citizen to:
“the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law."
Abuses of authority by law enforcement, and jail medical neglect can be grounds for Section 1983 lawsuits. The Bill of Rights shields us from illegal police searches, excessive force, being coerced to incriminate yourself, and from violations of due process.
If you or a family member have been victims of civil rights violations, you may be entitled to compensation designed to cover medical bills, lost income, and emotional suffering. In some cases, you may also be able to seek punitive damages.
Speaking out when you are aware of blatant abuses by law enforcement is your duty as a citizen. Often, lawsuits have set legal precedents and contributed to much-needed reform in Illinois.
While cops guilty of police brutality often charge victims with resisting arrest or assaulting an officer, or file counter-lawsuits when you decide to speak up, an experienced attorney can find evidence of abuse in the most difficult circumstances.
Our team of litigators, civil rights specialists, and investigators have the experience and resources to get to the bottom of things and maximize compensation in a wide variety of in-custody abuse and neglect cases in Illinois and beyond.
Which Are The Worst Correctional Facilities in Illinois?
Sexual Abuse, Torture, and Medical Neglect In Illinois Jails and Prisons
Cook County Jail
The third worst US detention center according to InmateSurvival.com, Cook County Jail is also the largest jail in America. “Detainees at the Cook County Jail face such an ‘extremely high’ risk of harm that the facility is one of the most dangerous in the country,” the Chicago Tribune reports.
Famous former inmates include the likes of Al Capone and the Chicago Seven. From overcrowding to rodent-infestation and frequent abuse by wardens, inmates have denounced many systematic civil rights violations at Cook. Inmate Survival has called it, “one of the least inmate and visitor-friendly jails in the United States of America.” This mismanaged jail has been the scene of several cases of medical negligence, use of excessive force, and unexplained inmate deaths.
Stateville Correctional Center
Encircled by a 10-meter high wall, this maximum security male correctional is not as overcrowded as others, but it remains one of the most dangerous in Illinois. Its population consists mainly of men convicted on violent crimes and sentenced to over 20 years. Gangs and budget cuts have turned it into one of the most violent correctional facilities in the country.
This excerpt from a book by Charles Shaw gives a clear idea about Stateville: “I would spend thirteen days in isolation at the Stateville Northern Reception and Classification center in Joliet, Illinois, before being sent on to my prison facility to serve out the remainder of my sentence.
Thirteen endless days in a brand new, state-of-the-art, hyper-industrialized detention facility. It was ‘only’ thirteen days, I can tell myself now, four years later. But while it was happening, it was a form of torture that leaves an indelible scar on a person’s soul. That is why they call Stateville, Hotel Hell.”
Illinois River Correctional Center, Menard Correctional Center, Big Muddy River Correctional Center, and Lawrence Correctional Center.
In 2015, a class action lawsuit exposed systematic physical and sexual abuse at these four Illinois facilities. A unit of the Department of Corrections, known as Orange Crush and composed of over 200 officers, routinely beat up inmates, choked them, and penetrated them anally with batons while chanting “punish the inmate.”
According to the complaint, “Defendants inflicted unnecessary physical and emotional pain and suffering on... prisoners... They did so intentionally, wantonly, and/or with malice.” The plaintiffs named the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections as one of the Orange Crush unit’s co-conspirators.
The group of rogue officers is far from the only culprit of abuse and negligence at the four facilities. At Menard, for example, a series of murders shook the facility in 2013, shortly after the victims expressed their fear of “violent cellmates,” and were ignored by staff.
How Much Compensation in Illinois Inmate Death Lawsuit?
People Injured or Killed While In-Custody in Illinois, and Their Families, Receive Multi-Million Dollar Settlements
In 2017, Jason Strong, who was wrongly incarcerated for murder for 15 years, received a $9 million settlement from Lake County. He had been convicted thanks to a mix of questionable snitches and coerced confessions.
According to the lawsuit, the Waukegan police department was used to “bending” the law to secure convictions and,
"far from disciplining or firing [the officers involved], the City of Waukegan rewarded and promoted them, such that the officers have flourished within the department and within the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force despite their troubled records."
Strong’s complaint pointed to at least seven other cases where DNA evidence that proved defendants were innocent was systematically excluded, in favor of coerced confessions.
In 2017, Michael Borys, a 33-year-old Cook County Jail inmate who fell from a top bunk and suffered a skull fracture received a $5 million settlement. Borys, who had been arrested on a misdemeanor, had a history of seizures. A doctor had ordered that he be placed on a bottom bunk, but jail staff was not informed in time.
The fracture led to partial blindness and a traumatic brain injury.
In 2015, Wexford Health Sources, a health care provider to Illinois inmates, paid $800,000 to the estate of Alfonso Franco, who died of undiagnosed and untreated colon cancer at Taylorville Correctional Center. The health care services at Illinois jails has been described as “horrific” in the local press.
Soon after being incarcerated, Franco started complaining of constipation and dizziness, and losing massive amounts of weight. Although blood tests showed alarming signs that are often associated with cancer, doctors dismissed the results, and the inmate received no treatment whatsoever until the disease had spread to his liver and lungs.
Even after days of having 40 bowel movements and others when he was unable to urinate, Franco failed to receive treatment or tests to establish a diagnosis.
When the diagnosis was finally made at a hospital, the victim was already terminally ill. He was sent back to prison and died a month later. Franco had been jailed for a nonviolent cocaine offense. He was 53 at the time of his death.
In 2014, the family of 51-year-old Eugene Gruber, a deceased Lake County Jail inmate, received a $1.95 million wrongful death settlement. Gruber had been injured, suffering paralysis, after he was beaten up by a guard. Four months later, he died from consequences of the injury.
Gruber had been arrested for disorderly conduct and trespassing. Although he had a severe spinal injury, he was not taken to the hospital following the incident. The jail’s health care provider, Corrective Care Solutions, was also mentioned as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed by Gruber’s sister.
In 2012, 80 female Cook County jail detainees who filed a class action suit received a $4.1 million settlement to resolve allegations that they had been shackled while pregnant and in labor, in violation of state laws. According to a spokesperson for the victims, the outcome of the lawsuit successfully “stopped the practice... the county and sheriff... moved toward a more humane method of handling women who are pregnant and in labor.”
In 2011, the Illinois State Police paid $2.5 million to Gordon Randy Steidl, who was wrongly jailed for 17 years for a double murder based on flawed evidence. A spokesperson for Steidl commented that the settlement amounted to “an admission that state investigators had a hand in wrongfully sending a man to prison for more than 17 years, 12 of them on death row.”
In 2009 Madison Hobley was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of starting a fire that killed his wife and son. After he was pardoned by the governor, Hobley was able to file a lawsuit claiming he was innocent and had been tortured into confession. In 2009, over 20 years after the incident, he received a settlement of $7.5 million.
Is It Too Late to File My Jail Death Lawsuit in Illinois?
Statute of Limitations for Filing an Illinois Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Under the Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180/2, you have two years to file a lawsuit counting from the moment when the victim was killed. Only close relatives can file this type of lawsuits. If the surviving next of kin is underage, the two-year period begins as soon as they have turned 18.
If you want to maximize compensation and contribute to correctional system reform in Illinois, contact one of our civil rights attorneys as soon as possible. We know that not even a multi-million dollar settlement can bring your loved one back, but it may save the lives of potential victims and help rid the system of corrupt officers.
We understand what the families of victims go through. Our experienced attorneys are passionate civil rights advocates who will be with you every step of the way.
Contact Jail Death and Injury Law today for a free and thorough consultation. 866.836.4684 OR CONNECT ONLINE