IL-CHEP began in 2016, with the following purposes: 1) to learn what kinds of higher education programming existed in Illinois, 2) to learn what challenges these programs encountered, and how programs had overcome those challenges, 3) to discuss how to advocate in a more unified and effective way for HEP in the state, and 4) to better coordinate HEP offerings in the Illinois Dept of Corrections, and 5) to establish a consistent working relationship with key administrators in the DOC.

At the time it was formed, there were HEP programs at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill Illinois (P-NAP, DePaul, Northern Illinois University, North Park, and Northwestern), and at Danville Correctional Center (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign).

A major motivation had to do with the frequent undermining, cancellation of programs, and banning of education volunteers by IDOC administrators, particularly UIUC’s Education Justice Programs at Danville Correctional Center. There were also concerns about inconsistent and inequitable administration of the various programs at Stateville.

In 2019 IDOC staff at Danville banned over 200 books from the EJP library housed there and returned the books to UIUC, with no notice, and with no proof that the books were “divisive” and created problems, as it had claimed. The vast majority of these books covered issues of race, identity, and inequality. Although IDOC soon re-accepted the books, IL-CHEP decided to embark on a legislative path to prevent such things from happening again.

In November of 2019 IL-CHEP held a convening in Springfield with HEP alumni and instructors, legislators, other supporters of HEP, and IDOC administrators, with over 100 people in attendance. This convening was a unique opportunity to introduce these various stakeholders to each other, and to educate legislators and IDOC admin about the benefits of HEP, and the need to enhance it across the state. It also gave strong momentum to IL-CHEP’s plans to expand its membership and HEP programs to other parts of the state.

During the early phases of the Covid19 pandemic, IL-CHEP formed a soap and sanitizer committee, and with the help of the Education Justice Project it raised funds, procured, and donated $50,000 worth of hand-sanitizer and soap to the IDOC, designated for those incarcerated in all the state’s prisons.  This was done in part at the request of IDOC.  Unfortunately, it was not at all clear that these supplies got to the intended recipients, so this committee has suspended this work until there is clear verification that it did.

Announcements from ILCHEP's Week of Action designed by Aaron Hughes and Sarah Ross