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How Many Prisons Are In Illinois?

The state of Illinois has a large and complex prison system. As of 2023, there are currently 28 adult correctional facilities operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). This includes 25 male prisons, 2 female prisons, and 1 facility for both males and females. In addition, there are also 8 youth centers operated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ).

The IDOC is responsible for overseeing the operation of the adult facilities and providing rehabilitative services and programs to inmates. Illinois has a prison population of over 35,000 inmates as of 2023. The IDOC employs over 10,000 staff members including correctional officers, program staff, and administrative personnel.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the prison system in Illinois, including the history, statistics, facilities, inmate programs, issues and controversies. We will also highlight some high-profile cases of inmates incarcerated in Illinois prisons.

History of Illinois Prisons

The origins of the Illinois prison system date back to the 1800s. Here is a brief overview of the major historical developments:

  • 1827 – Illinois State Penitentiary opens in Alton. It was the first state prison built in Illinois.
  • 1833 – Stateville Correctional Center opens in Joliet. It is still one of the largest maximum security prisons in Illinois today.
  • 1858 – Joliet Correctional Center, originally known as Illinois State Penitentiary, opens. It was notorious for its poor conditions and abuse of prisoners.
  • 1860s – Cook County Jail opens in Chicago. It serves as the main jail for Cook County to this day.
  • 1920s – Illinois abolishes its convict lease system which had leased prisoners out to private companies as cheap labor.
  • 1930s – Stateville introduces several rehabilitation programs including education, vocational training, counseling, and religion.
  • 1960s – Several riots occur in Illinois prisons due to poor living conditions and overcrowding issues. Reforms were enacted.
  • 1970s – Illinois prison population grows rapidly leading to serious overcrowding issues again. More prisons are constructed.
  • 1980s-90s – “Tough on crime” policies lead to dramatic rise in Illinois incarceration rates. Medical care issues, gang violence, and staffing shortages plague prisons.
  • 2010s – Illinois prisons remain overcrowded. Solitary confinement practices draw criticism. Efforts begin to reduce prison population.

This history highlights the rapid growth of the Illinois prison system along with recurring issues such as overcrowding and poor living conditions. Rehabilitation and reform efforts have only sometimes succeeded in improving the system.

Illinois Prison Statistics and Facts

Here are some key facts and statistics about prisons in Illinois:

  • There are currently 28 adult correctional facilities in Illinois.
  • The inmate population is over 35,000 as of 2023.
  • About 95% of inmates are male.
  • Approximately 48% of inmates are African American, 29% are White, 21% are Hispanic/Latino, and 2% are other races.
  • Over 50% of inmates are aged 30 or younger. Around 3% are over 60.
  • The average sentence for inmates is around 13.4 years. Many are serving long sentences for violent crimes or even life sentences.
  • Drug offenses comprise about 18% of inmates’ most serious commitment offense.
  • There are around 1,700 inmates serving life sentences and nearly 200 on death row in Illinois.
  • The incarceration rate in Illinois is around 450 per 100,000 residents which is lower than the national average of around 600.
  • Illinois has an annual corrections budget of over $1.5 billion. The average annual cost per inmate is approximately $38,000.
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These statistics illustrate that Illinois prisons house a very large and diverse inmate population under tight budgets and crowded conditions. Sentencing laws have also contributed to long prison terms.

Major Illinois Prisons and Facilities

There are over 25 different prison facilities for adults operated by the IDOC. Here is an overview of some of the major facilities:

Stateville Correctional Center

  • Maximum and medium security prison in Crest Hill
  • Around 2,300 inmates
  • Notorious for its poor conditions historically. Features a unique roundhouse design with cells along circular galleries.
  • Houses many inmates serving long sentences or life. Also has an extensive mental health unit.
  • Site of several riots and disturbances over the years due to overcrowding.

Menard Correctional Center

  • Maximum security prison in southern Illinois
  • Around 3,800 inmates
  • Known for having a severe solitary confinement unit called the North 2 Unit used for disciplinary purposes.
  • Site of a major riot in 1954 and a lockdown in 1979. Houses many inmates with lengthy sentences.

Pontiac Correctional Center

  • Maximum security prison with around 1,300 inmates
  • Has a high concentration of mental health inmates including those found not guilty by reason of insanity.
  • Housed several notorious inmates over the years including John Wayne Gacy.

Logan Correctional Center

  • Medium security women’s prison in Lincoln
  • Around 1,800 female inmates
  • Offers vocational programs such as cosmetology, computer skills, and culinary arts.
  • Faced overcrowding issues in recent decades resulting in a 2013 expansion.

Sheridan Correctional Center

  • Medium security prison with specialized drug treatment programs
  • Around 1,300 inmates
  • Sheridan opened in 2004 specifically to house inmates with substance abuse issues. Features intensive drug treatment and education programs.
  • Goal is to reduce recidivism by treating addictions.

Cook County Jail

  • Main jail complex for Cook County located in Chicago
  • Detains around 6,500 inmates both pretrial and those serving short county sentences.
  • Experiences extreme overcrowding and staffing shortages resulting in violence and poor conditions.
  • Houses many inmates with mental illnesses who don’t belong in jail.

This overview shows how Illinois uses prisons with varying security levels to house different types of inmates and provide various services. However, capacity constraints, staffing issues, poor conditions and crumbling infrastructure remain ongoing challenges.

Inmate Programs and Services

The IDOC offers various programs and services aimed at rehabilitation and improving outcomes for inmates:

Education Programs

  • High school equivalency diploma (GED) preparation classes. Over 5,000 inmates enroll annually.
  • Vocational training in fields like computer repair, welding, carpentry, clothing manufacturing and more.
  • College courses allowed in partnership with colleges and universities. But Pell grants are restricted.

Substance Abuse Treatment

  • Drug treatment units like at Sheridan Correctional Center provide intensive therapy.
  • Other facilities have substance abuse programs focused on counseling and 12-step methods.
  • Medication-assisted treatment used in some cases.
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Mental Health Services

  • Facilities like Pontiac Correctional Center house inmates with mental illnesses. Treatment includes therapy, medications and specialized housing.
  • Other prisons have some mental health services, but often inadequate.
  • Solitary confinement exacerbates mental illnesses.

Reentry Programs

  • Start six months before release to prepare inmates for transitioning back to society.
  • Focuses on getting IDs, finding housing and work, continuing education or treatment, and more.
  • Illinois offers the Statewide Reentry Employment Program to help with jobs.

While Illinois offers a range of rehabilitative services, participation and effectiveness is limited by capacity constraints, poor staffing, and budget shortfalls in the prison system. More program investments and sentencing reforms are needed.

Controversies and Issues Facing Illinois Prisons

Illinois prisons contend with many systemic issues and controversies including:


  • Almost all Illinois prisons hold more inmates than their design capacity, putting a strain on staff and infrastructure.
  • Overcrowding contributes to increased violence, rapid spread of illness, and poor access to programs for inmates.
  • Prison population exploded due to “tough on crime” policies from the 1980s-1990s.
  • Electronic monitoring, custody alternatives, sentence reductions and other reforms are aimed at reducing overcrowding.

Solitary Confinement

  • Illinois used prolonged solitary confinement practices that kept inmates in near total isolation for years.
  • Led to mental illness, suicides, self-harm among inmates in solitary units like Pontiac and Tamms.
  • Reforms have limited solitary to shorter periods and require mental health monitoring.

Staffing Shortages and Healthcare

  • Illinois prisons experience high staff vacancy rates for correctional officers and healthcare professionals.
  • Resulted in dangerous conditions where inmate needs went unmet. Some facilities were under temporary federal oversight.
  • Low salaries make hiring difficult. Current employees face high risks of burnout and trauma.

Violence and Inmate Deaths

  • Both inmate-on-inmate violence and use of force by staff has resulted in deadly outcomes.
  • Several prisons reported spikes in homicide and suicide rates in recent years.
  • Poor supervision, gang activity, overcrowding and availability of contraband weapons cited as factors.

Rehabilitation and Recidivism

  • Critics argue prison programs are underfunded and fail to adequately prepare inmates for release.
  • Budget cuts during Illinois’ financial crisis from 2015-2017 led to further program reductions.
  • Illinois’ recidivism rate of around 48% leaves room for improvement.

Addressing these systemic issues remains an urgent priority if Illinois hopes to run humane, rehabilitative and cost-effective prisons in the long run. Ongoing reforms seek to create lasting change.

Notable Inmates of Illinois Prisons

Illinois prisons have housed many notorious and famous inmates over the years. Here are a few high-profile examples:

  • John Wayne Gacy (Stateville Correctional Center) – The “Killer Clown” was one of the most infamous serial killers. He sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972-1978. He was convicted in 1980 and executed by lethal injection in 1994.
  • Richard Speck (Stateville) – In 1966, Speck killed eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital in a horrific mass murder. His natural life sentence spared him the death penalty. He died of a heart attack in prison in 1991.
  • Charles Manson (Stateville) – The cult leader of the Manson Family served time at Stateville in the 1960s for auto theft and skipped parole. He later orchestrated the 1969 murders of Sharon Tate and others in California.
  • Dennis Hastert (Rochester Correctional Center) – The former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives served time for illegally structuring bank transactions to pay hush money related to his sexual abuse of teenage boys years earlier. He was released in 2020.
  • Oscar Lopez Rivera (Terre Haute) – The Puerto Rican activist served 35 years in prison on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement with FALN, a group that advocated Puerto Rico’s independence. His sentence was commuted by President Obama in 2017.
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These examples provide just a glimpse into the many high-profile prisoners held in Illinois over the decades. Their stories are often tied to broader social issues playing out across the state and nation.

Major Prison Crimes and Convictions

Here is a table summarizing some of the major crimes committed by notable inmates who served time in Illinois prisons over the last decades:

Inmate NameCrimesSentencePrison Facility
John Wayne GacyMurder and sexual assault of 33 boys and young menDeath (executed in 1994)Stateville Correctional Center
Richard SpeckMurder of 8 student nursesLife sentence (died in prison in 1991)Stateville Correctional Center
Dennis HastertBank transactions structuring and hush money payments related to earlier sexual abuse15 months (released 2020)Rochester Correctional Center
Oscar Lopez RiveraSedition, seditious conspiracy, training with explosives55 year sentence (served 35 years, commuted 2017)Terre Haute Federal Prison
James DegorskiBrown’s Chicken restaurant massacre – murder of 7 employeesLife sentenceMenard Correctional Center
Drew PetersonMurder of ex-wife Kathleen Savio38 yearsMenard Correctional Center
Jerry HobbsMurder and sexual assault of daughters Laura and Krystal20 years, later exonerated by DNA evidencePontiac Correctional Center

This table illustrates the diversity of crimes that have led to decades-long sentences for inmates in the Illinois prison system. Several of these cases made national headlines and had far-reaching impacts on victims’ families, communities, and even public policy.

Here are answers to some common questions about prisons in Illinois:

How many prisons are in Illinois?

There are currently 28 state-run adult correctional facilities operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). This includes 25 male prisons, 2 female prisons, and 1 facility housing both genders. There are also 8 juvenile facilities run separately by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ).

What is the largest prison in Illinois?

The Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill is the largest maximum security adult prison in Illinois with around 2,300 inmates. The Cook County Jail in Chicago houses over 6,000 inmates and is the largest jail complex.

What is the oldest prison in Illinois?

Joliet Correctional Center, opened in 1858, is considered the oldest operating prison in Illinois. The original Illinois State Penitentiary building there opened in the 1830s.

How many inmates are in Illinois prisons?

As of 2023, there are over 35,000 inmates housed within the Illinois Department of Corrections system in the state-run adult facilities. The total incarcerated population, including jails and juveniles, exceeds 40,000.

What is the most common crime among Illinois inmates?

According to IDOC statistics, around 37% of inmates were convicted of violent crimes like murder, sexual assault or robbery. The next most common is drug offenses at 18%. Other major categories are weapons offenses, burglary, and aggravated battery or assault.


In conclusion, Illinois maintains a large and complex prison system that continues to grapple with interrelated issues such as overcrowding, rehabilitation failures, violence, healthcare shortcomings, and more. But the state has also pioneered some novel programs around mental health, drug treatment and reentry services that attempt to improve outcomes. As critics call for prison reforms and sentencing changes, Illinois will need to thoroughly evaluate its approach to incarceration and balance punishment, public safety and rehabilitation. The social and economic impacts of imprisonment affect not just inmates, but communities across the state. Moving forward, the Illinois prison system faces the challenge of evolving its aging infrastructure and practices to meet the needs of inmates, staff and the public.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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