The Illinois Department of Corrections, a 12,000-employee agency, runs the prisons, correctional centers and custody facilities throughout the state. It has more than 40,000 inmates in its custody, many of whom have various special needs and illnesses. The contempt-of-court finding says that the Department was supposed to have developed a plan to diagnose the health care conditions of inmates and to provide them with specific, targeted forms of health care adapted to their conditions. No such plan has been presented to the federal court of jurisdiction, and the judge has now issued a finding of contempt of court.
One of the factor behind this finding is the existence of what is now an established network of “pro bono” advocacy groups, including legal counsel. These advocates assert that federal courts, court agreements, and consent decrees are essential pieces of good government. The failure of the Pritzker administration to present an inmate health-care plan to the federal court of jurisdiction constitutes an allege failure by the State of Illinois to abide by the terms of a previous court agreement. The agreement responds to, or references, a lengthy list of lawsuits filed by inmates and their advocates against the Department in a series of cases that date back to 2007. In many such cases the original inmate-plaintiffs have served their sentences and been released from IDOC, but under legal rules the cases remain alive with a shifting list of plaintiffs.
The contempt-of-court finding constitutes one more stage of a multi-factored process that could result in a revised pattern of court agreements and a major IDOC consent decree. The goal of the advocates is to force the Department into a legal position where it will have to demand that the General Assembly substantially increase its appropriations of taxpayer funds to the Department. This is another step in what has become a mandated pattern of State of Illinois tax burdens and State spending growing much faster than the economy as a whole. This pattern, in place since 1970, has led to Illinois’ income, sales, and property tax rates continually increasing over time. Illinois now has the 49th or 50th worst homeowner tax burden in the U.S., depending on the method used to count it.
The contempt of court finding is part of a pattern of court findings against State agencies controlled by Gov. Pritzker. In public statements, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and his colleagues have called out these agencies, with particular attention to the troubled Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and its director, Marc Smith. More than a dozen separate contempt of court findings have been issued against Director Smith.