Illinois Newsroom

Illinois Newsroom is a regional journalism collaboration focused on expanding access to trusted, timely and relevant information across three key statewide topics: Education, Political Impact and Health/Environment.

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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. 

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. 

In late March, a child welfare worker visited the family home of 9-year-old Byron Casanova in Johnston City, Illinois. The social worker expressed concerns about the environment but Byron and his three siblings weren’t removed from the home. Four days later, Byron Casanova committed suicide.  

“The Intact worker was there the Tuesday before, noted some things in the house and said he was concerned about the current cleanliness of the house,” said Johnston City Police Chief William Stark.

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. 

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.

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.

 

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.

The U.S. Census count is less than a year away, and the group tasked with making sure everyone is counted is asking state lawmakers for millions to help in that effort.

If the count on April 1, 2020 reveals that Illinois has lost another 45,000 residents, the state could lose two of its 18 congressional seats, according to an analysis from Election Data Services Inc., a political consulting firm.

In one town in the Metro East, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, police are forcing landlords to evict tenants who have called for help during an overdose because they have heroin or other controlled substances in their rental property.

How Many Patients Should a Nurse Care For?

May 17, 2019
A nurse caring for a baby in an incubator
travisdmchenry/Pixabay / Pixabay

Several Illinois lawmakers want to improve patient outcomes through legislation that would limit the number of people nurses can care for at any given time

The Illinois Nursing Association said the bill will improve results for both  patients and nurses who are overworked.

Alice Johnson, the executive director for INA, said that the more patients nurses have, the less likely they are to catch mistakes, and the risks for patients experiencing complications increases.

“The body of evidence shows that safe patient-nurse ratios is better for patients,” she said.

Illinois continues to lose residents, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau released in April. Overall, around 45,000 fewer people lived in the state in 2018 than 2017, a loss of about 0.4%.

About half of that decline is in the Chicago metropolitan region, particularly in Cook County, which saw a 0.5% decrease. The recent numbers show growth in the Chicago region has slowed, but long-term trends find that downstate is shrinking at a much faster and sustained pace.

“If we take that longer view, we’re actually seeing population growth centered up around Chicago,” said Cynthia Buckley, a professor of sociology and social demographer at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

Can Cannabis Help Patients Avoid Opioids?

May 1, 2019
Chuck Herrera/Pixabay

WSIU and Illinois Newsroom reported this story as part of a weeklong series from public radio stations around the state focusing on the potential impact of marijuana legalization.

Since February, patients in Illinois have been able to swap their opioid prescriptions for marijuana. And many are doing just that.

They’re part of a program designed to let patients who might not qualify for the state’s regular medical marijuana program exchange an opioid prescription, like Oxycontin, for weed.

 


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.  

New Medicaid Coverage for Transgender Illinoisans

Apr 15, 2019
Ted Eytan / Flickr/Creative Commons

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services will soon allow gender confirmation surgery to be covered by Medicaid.

That procedure, most often done to augment genitals and breasts, is used by transgender people who want their physical body match their gender identity. Not all trans people opt for surgeries, but many feel it’s necessary for their well-being.

“Covering gender affirming surgery fosters healthcare equity and inclusion,” said John Hoffman, the department’s spokesperson.

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.

 

Affordable housing issues often get media attention when property prices soar due to spiking economic development or when property prices tumble due to dramatic industry decline, but that narrative is incomplete.

Struggling for Housing

Mar 29, 2019
Steph Whiteside/WSIU

In the course of reporting my previous story on the gap between wages and the cost of housing, I spent time following a case manager with the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless.

During that time, I met several people who shared their stories of how they struggled to find housing and how the coalition has helped them.

Every person who is homeless has their own story. But the two below are examples of common reasons for homelessness -- living on a fixed income and finding housing after being released from prison.

Donna: Living on Disability

In Illinois, there are only 35 affordable housing units for every 100 families considered extremely low-income, according to Housing Action Illinois, a housing advocacy organization.

Housing Choice Voucher, also known as Section 8, is a federal program designed to make market-rate apartments accessible to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. The voucher program covers part of the rent for around 97,000 families in Illinois.

In response to a call for questions on affordable housing, one Illinois Newsroom listener asked: “How does Section 8 work? It seems like a great program in theory that also seems really hard for families to access in practice.”

For Low Wage Workers Housing is Out of Reach

Mar 19, 2019

An estimated 10,643 people in Illinois are homeless according to federal data. Many of those are working - but still can’t make ends meet.

For the Stephens family, it all began with a landlord who refused to make repairs to their rental home.

“Our roof was a joke,” Jenny Stephens said. “Our roof had a big old huge hole in it, gaping hole. And when it snowed, we had snow in our kitchen.”

Many communities in Illinois have rules that say renters can lose their housing if someone in the home is connected to a crime. City leaders who back the policies say the rules make neighborhoods safer. But fair housing advocates question the tactics.

 

The Quad Cities are divided by the Mississippi River along the Illinois-Iowa border. They all took a big hit during the 1980’s farm crisis, and were left with abandoned warehouses and other buildings.

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.

Crumbling sidewalks, gas line failures and cracked concrete — the problems at Brookfield Zoo are a metaphor for what’s wrong with public infrastructure throughout Illinois.

As lawmakers begin negotiating a statewide spending plan to fix it, the zoo is among a growing list of those coming to Springfield with their paws out.

The Chicago Zoological Society, the nonprofit that runs the zoo, is asking state lawmakers for help rehabbing and improving its facilities from a promised capital plan.

Why Are There So Few Black Men In Medicine?

Feb 13, 2019
A man in scrubs standing in an operating room.
Benjy Jeffords/WSIU

Dr. Don Arnold’s home office overflows with medical textbooks, old anatomical prints and six pages of a recommendation letter from his first application to medical school - framed and hanging on the wall.

“It says I have very unique and viable talents that would serve me well, but on paper a very poor academic record,” he says. “So this is code. For those who don’t know. Nobody’s going to outwardly tell you not to take a person, but this is how they write it in code.”

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.

Weasle Forsythe is an information assurance apprentice with SuprTEK - a government contracting firm in O’Fallon, Illinois, outside of St. Louis. In the quiet office of cubicles with two screens and near-silent coders, her cubicle is decked out.

“I have all my toys here and my huge fidget cube, and my Spider Gwen and my X-Force Deadpool,” she said.

Amid the color and chaos of superhero posters and figurines - Forsythe pulled out a big black binder. “I mean, this isn’t really sexy, but I think it’s awesome. It’s the NIST compliance,” she said.

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.

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.”

Illinois’ population loss could be a warning for larger changes to come.

Between July 2017 and July 2018, Illinois lost more than 45,000 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. It’s still the sixth-most populated state, but is one of only a handful of states that lost people over that time period.

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