When an inmate enters the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) it is often a frightening and confusing time for his/her family members and friends. Often times there is no preparation in advance of their incarceration and the prison sentence comes with a shock. This forum will explain many of the steps that need to be taken by loved ones to cope with this sentence and to learn their way around the IDOC and to keep open communication between family members and their inmate.
- STEP ONE: THIS IS A VERY APPREHENSIVE TIME FOR MOTHERS, FATHERS, WIVES, HUSBANDS AND OTHER LOVED ONES. If you've found your way to Illinois Prison Talk you're undoubtedly looking for needed information and hopefully support from others within this prison community. First, take a deep breath, calm down and realize that the IDOC's main focus is to take care of your inmate. They have the responsibility to keep the residents safe and healthy. Nearly all the information that you will need to interact with your inmate and the IDOC can be found right here at www.illinoisprisontalk.org
- STEP TWO: FIND YOUR INMATE. To get started you must establish where your inmate is located. Every incoming resident will go to a Reception and Classification prison to be processed into the DOC.
Stateville Correctional Center, near Joliet, Illinois, Graham CC, in Hillsboro, Illinois and Menard CC, at Chester, Illinois are the three large R & C centers for Illinois. Stateville's new center was opened in 2004. Menard's center was opened in 2003. Dwight Correctional Center is the intake center for all women prisoners.
While in R & C the inmate receives his IDOC ID#, temporary clothing (yellow jumpsuit), medical exams (physical and psychological) and interviews and paperwork to determine which classification (security level) he/she will be placed in. A temporary counselor is assigned to each incoming prisoner. Depending upon the severity of the crime (felony class), nature of the crime (violent/non-violent), gang affiliation or not, length of sentence, previous DOC record, educational training and medical needs, the IDOC will place the inmate in the most suitable institution (parent institution). Each inmate is provided with a handbook of IDOC Rules and Regulations. The inmate is photographed and finger-printed for identification purposes in B of I. (Bureau of Identification). Each inmate must also provide a DNA sample (blood sample or saliva swab) for IDOC's database. This sample is saved for future identification and also for the protection of inmates from inmate assaults.
Following the completion of R & C the inmate awaits assignment and transport to his home facility. This can sometimes be as short as one week or several weeks, depending on the availability of bed space. He will be transported by bus to his new home. Sometimes the inmate will be allowed to make a phone call to his family and sometimes not. It depends on the staff and the availability of telephones. Inmates are informed of their new location the night before they leave and given enough time to pack, but are not allowed to communicate the destination. If an inmate has special medical needs he may likely go to a prison with medical units. Also, if necessary for the protection of an inmate he may be placed in a PC (protective custody) unit, rather than general population.
No visits are allowed while being processed. Incoming mail is allowed. Money may be sent to the inmate to put into his trust account. This will be discussed in a subsequent step.
TO FIND YOUR INMATE'S LOCATION you must know his last and preferably first name, birthdate or IDOC #. To search the IDOC's database go here:
- STEP THREE: WRITE DOWN YOUR INMATE'S DOC ID #. When your inmate is located his/her IDOC ID# is included. This is the number that will be used throughout the prison stay for all identifying purposes. The number remains with the inmate for any future incarcerations also. Each inmate has a homepage profile listed on the IDOC's website:
Other information is also listed: date of incarceration, out-date, birthdate, scars and tattoos, photograph and a synopsis of their criminal charges (present and past), the court's mittimus and years sentenced to parole upon completion of sentence. If the inmate's crime was of a sexual nature Sex Offender Registry Notification is also included.
- STEP FOUR: REGISTER WITH VICTIM NOTIFICATION SERVICE. As it may take many weeks until you get a letter from your inmate notifying you of his/her location there is a way for you to be notified each and every time the inmate is moved within the DOC. This may be the single most important piece of advice we can offer. Please register with VINE. This is a program run by the Illinois Attorney General's Office to notify victim's when an inmate is moved, in transport or about to be paroled. Although the program's intention is for victim notification it is available to anyone to keep track of an inmate's whereabouts.
Each and every time your inmate is moved, while still in transport, you will be notified by e-mail or telephone call, the destination where he is en route. Notification is also made two weeks prior to a parole release, and again the day of release. This is the fastest notification for family members available. You will know the whereabouts of your loved one before their arrival at the institution, allowing you to immediately send mail, money or arrange for visiting. Further information is available and a link to VINE is located in our VINE forum:
- STEP FIVE: SET UP TELEPHONE SERVICE ACCOUNT. Even while your inmate is still in Reception you may want to establish a telephone account with the prison telephone service: SECURUS TECHNOLOGIES. When each inmate reaches his parent institution he will be allowed to submit a list of names of his requested visitors and also a list of phone contacts. Both lists must be approved by the prison administrators. These lists may take up to one month to be approved. Persons on parole, probation or with pending court cases are not alllowed to visit inmates. Most institutions require approved visitors to submit basic personal information at the first visit. Inmate phone lists are approved by staff in advance of any calls being allowed. Each inmate may revise his lists once each month. There is extensive information about Securus Technologies in our prison telephone system forum:
Neither phone calls or visits will be allowed by family/friends unless your inmate submits your name for approval. Only after the approval is received will you be allowed to receive phone calls or make visits. This can take up to one month. NOTE: The prison will NOT tell you if you are on his/her approved phone or visitor's list. This is IDOC policy and is strictly adhered to.
You must wait to be notified by the inmate. If you have set up an account with Securus Technologies, you will probably get the first phone call within a short time after the inmate's phone contacts are approved. If you haven't established a phone account before the inmate makes an attempt to place a call, you will receive a recorded message that an inmate has attempted to call and it will instruct you to contact the prison phone system, including it's phone number. Additional information about phone service and visiting regulations are located in many threads within the respective forums on IPT. There are many tips and suggestions from members to make these experiences run smoothly.
- STEP SIX: LOCATE INMATE'S FACILITY FOR VISITING.. When you establish where your inmate will be permanently assigned you will want to familiarize yourself with the facility. Each facility has different visiting rules and the best place to find these are in the basic DOC information and additional comments from members in the Individual Prison Profiles forum:
Included in the basic information from the IDOC is the address for inmate mail, telephone number, visiting hours and requirements and warden's name. Each facility has a description of the prison, designated security level and estimated number of inmates. To locate your inmates institution there is an Illinois Prison Location map, divided by districts and captioned with the name and security level of each. You will find the map here:
All IDOC adult prisons, juvenile detention centers, adult boot camps and adult transitional centers are represented in the Individual Prison Profiles and also pinpointed on the map.
Each facility has it's own rules and regulation concerning visitors. It's best to call your inmate's facility before the first visit to inquire what ID's are required and visiting procedures. Almost all facilities use a vending card system for purchasing food items and photographs (for the prisons that allow them). No cash is allowed to be brought into the prisons, except what will be placed on a vending card. The vending cards usually cost $1. The visitor may then add whatever additional amount of money that will be used in the vending machines during the visit. Most prisons have appropriate dress requirements and some limit the amount of jewelery a guest may wear. Each prison allows different amounts of visits per month. There are lockers at most facilities for storing purses, coats, etc. while visiting. Automobiles are subject to search at every facility. Please remove any objects from your cars that could be considered contraband. You will be refused a visit and possibly have your visiting privileges revoked for long periods of time. Even scissors, nail files, screwdrivers are not allowed on prison property. Leave them at home or in a hotel, if visiting from out of town.
Many Illinois Prisons are located on the plains of Illinois, in out of the way areas that are sometimes inaccessible by ordinary public transportation. There are some prison bus transportation services available to various prisons. There is information about these services in our Transportation forum:
Also included in this forum is an area to place a notice to share a ride with other members who are looking for others visiting the same institution. This is a good way to share the travel expenses of a trip with another visitor.
- STEP SEVEN: LEARN MAILING REQUIREMENTS/RESTRICTIONS. Sending money to an inmate and mailing specific items to inmates have many IDOC regulations. Often times this varies from prison to prison, particularly the items allowed to be mailed to inmates. Money orders are accepted at all Illinois Prisons but they must be sent through JPay, information here:
You can also send money to an inmate in IDOC through Western Union or Jpay, go here for information on that:
Mailing letters, packages and other items (including money orders and money transfers) to inmates is discussed extensively in our Prison mailing forum here:
- STEP EIGHT: ESTIMATE ACTUAL SENTENCE.. The actual time served by your inmate may vary greatly from the mandated court sentence. This is calculated and decreased for various good time credit and other credits.
For example: An inmate sentenced to a term of four years will most likely serve only 18 months within the DOC and sometimes even less. A day-for-a-day good conduct time is awarded to all prisoners in most circumstances. This is further reduced with an additional six-months for overcrowding within the IDOC. An additional three months can be earned for attending certain educational classes. Any time-served within a county facility, awaiting trial/sentencing, is also applied to the DOC term and further reduces the length of the sentence. Inmates without violent crimes may also be eligible for work release and this could reduce the time spent in an actual facility. These inmates are moved to transitional centers for employment purposes. It is important that the inmate not receive disciplinary violations during his stay. This could result in loss of good conduct credits and revoke an earlier release. If you check your inmate's IDOC webpage profile periodically you will know when these good conduct credits are applied. Their IDOC file is updated on a regular basis. The first outdate provided is not necessarily the actual outdate, as additional good time is awarded. Good time questions and other FAQ's can be found here:
- STEP NINE: FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH IDOC RULES AND REGULATIONS. Although each inmate receives a handbook of the department's rules family members are not familiar with the rules and regulations that could cause them future problems with the IDOC. There are many innocent things, to us, that we might unknowingly do to cause revocation of our visits and phone privileges. The IDOC's rules and regulations are listed in Title 20. This includes the violations that inmates's may be charged with, severity of the violations, description and length of the punishment. Each prison usually has a list of visiting rules posted in the gatehouse (main visiting center) or the actual visiting room. Read these rules to avoid violating them.
The link to the IDOC'S Rules and Regulations:
- STEP TEN: SUPPORT YOUR INMATE. As much as we are concerned for our loved ones as they enter the prison system, the fear of the unknown is ten-fold for the new inmate. Supportive family/friends are essential for an imate to endure his/her stay in prison. Whether accepting phone calls, visiting, writing letters or sending commissary money it's important for inmates to have a home support system. Inmates say that mail from home is the single most important source of comfort during their incarceration. Although basic necessities are provided all inmates most other items must be purchased, and at inflated prices. Although inmates receive approximately $10 per month State pay this hardly provides them any comforts. If at all possible, inmates greatly appreciate money sent from home.
~ "I have visited some of the best and the worst prisons and have never seen signs of coddling, but I have seen the terrible results of the boredom and frustration of empty hours and pointless existence." ~ US Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger
~ "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." ~ Mahatma Gandhi