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Transgender Menard inmate will move to another prison after settling 1 of 2 cases against IDOC


BENTON — After about six hours of negotiations, Strawberry (Deon) Hampton, the transgender Menard Correctional Center inmate who is suing the Illinois Department of Corrections for alleged abuses, reached a settlement in one of her cases Tuesday and will be transferred Wednesday to a new facility.

Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said he and his team came prepared for the second day of a preliminary injunction hearing in one of Hampton’s civil federal cases when representatives from IDOC came to them with an offer.

“With the judge’s help, we spent the day negotiating and seeing if we could resolve this case without a decision by the judge,” Mills said.

Hampton is currently serving a 10-year sentence for burglary.

Hampton was involved in two federal lawsuits against the IDOC and a list of correctional officers over abuses she alleges she suffered at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center as well as Menard. The suit against Menard contains more than 12 counts, including violating the equal protection clause, excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, and violating the Illinois Hate Crime Act.

Transgender Menard inmate seeks rare transfer to female prison

BENTON — During a preliminary injunction hearing Friday at the Benton Federal Courthouse, a transgender Menard Correctional Center inmate made her case for immediate relief, asking to be transferred to a women’s facility, while her civil federal case is litigated.

The abuses Hampton said she endured were, in her eyes, because of her status as a transgender woman.

Hampton made her case Friday during the first day of the injunction hearing for temporary relief while her suit went through the court system. During her testimony, Hampton alleged she suffered several incidents of abuse at the hands of corrections officers — verbal and physical.

Hampton recalled an incident at Pinckneyville where she and her cellmate were taken from their cell by officers and told to dance for the men. She said she was also told to have phone sex with one officer and forced to put her mouth on the penis of another.

After being taken to Menard, the abuse didn’t stop. She and other inmates testified on Friday that Hampton was dragged from her cell after requesting medical assistance, only to be returned in worse shape than when she left. She and other inmates also testified that it was open knowledge that the guards had put out a “honeybun hit” on her — inmates would be rewarded by guards for hurting her and those she associated with, Hampton alleged.

“The most important thing has always been Ms. Hampton’s safety. That’s why we put this on an emergency track. She felt that she was very much at risk at Menard and we felt that the evidence that went on (Friday) established that she was at great risk if she were to stay at Menard,” Mills said.

Photos: A Look Inside Menard Correctional Center

He said she has been housed in a health care facility, and will be until her transfer Wednesday to the Lawrence Correctional Center in Sumner.

Mills said he hopes the facilities at Lawrence will better suit Hampton’s needs.

“I know that there are other transgender women at Lawrence, so I’m hoping that they will have the sort of materials she and other transgender women need,” he said.

Mills said the settlement reached also outlines that within 60 days the Gender Identity Disorder Committee will meet and review whether Hampton is appropriately placed, review the mental health care she is getting, and make decisions on where she will stay for the duration of her sentence.

Hampton and her legal team have retained the right as part of the settlement to again sue IDOC based on any noncompliance with the agreed upon terms, Mills said. He also said they still plan to go ahead with the lawsuit over the abuses at Pinckneyville.

While Tuesday’s settlement does not set a legal precedent, Mills said he hopes it informs future IDOC decisions regarding other transgender inmates.

“We hope the Department of Corrections through this process has learned that they have to pay more attention to transgender issues and that they have to do the sort of assessment on an individualized basis that is required by federal law,” Mills said.

Legal council for IDOC declined comment for this report.


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Opioid Overdose Prevention
Illinois lieutenant governor, opioid task force visit Carbondale treatment center

CARBONDALE — Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti made her way to Southern Illinois on Tuesday as part of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.

Sanguinetti toured the Gateway Foundation in Carbondale. About 40 people walked throughout the campus where teenagers and adults live in dorm-style quarters similar to those at Southern Illinois University. Sanguinetti even took time out of the tour to answer a question from a resident at the foundation about changes to Medicare.

As the state began to seriously look into the opioid epidemic, officials realized they needed to travel. The governor called for a task force to fight the crisis. The task force has looked at strategies to prevent expansion of the opioid crisis, treat and promote the recovery of individuals with opioid-use disorder, and reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths.

“If you are in the Chicagoland, you may have completely different services than you would in Mount Vernon,” Sanguinetti said.

Since 2013, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Illinois has doubled, and the number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled. More than 1,900 people in Illinois are expected to die of opioid overdoses this year — more than one-and-a-half times the number of homicides and almost twice the number of fatal motor vehicle crashes. Between 2013 and 2016 in Illinois, total drug overdose deaths increased by almost 50 percent, overdose deaths involving opioids increased 76 percent, and overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, increased 258 percent.

“Addiction doesn’t just affect one type of person,” said Michelle Bertinetti, outreach coordinator for the Gateway Foundation. "It has a widespread effect.”

Sanguinetti agreed, calling the epidemic an “equal opportunity aggressor.”

“It is killing our elderly in very surprising numbers,” she said.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti speaks with local health care and law enforcement officials about the growing opioid crisis and its impact on Southern Illinois on Tuesday at the Gateway Treatment Center in Carbondale.

Sanguinetti explained in a roundtable discussion following the tour that the state has taken a few steps to fight back, including the task force. A statewide standing order allows pharmacists and naloxone training programs in Illinois to provide naloxone without a direct prescription to individuals at risk of an opioid overdose, as well as to others who may assist an individual suffering an opioid-related overdose.

Narcan (naloxone) is a medication used for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdose, including respiratory depression. Narcan is also used for diagnosis of suspected or known acute opioid overdose and also for blood pressure support in septic shock.

Part of Sanguinetti’s reasoning for traveling throughout the state was to check in on the needs of facilities similar to Gateway.

Anna Jurich, interim executive director of the facility, said the facility's biggest problem is lack of space.

“We struggle with having enough space to serve the people that need to be served,” she said.

Bertinetti echoed Jurich’s sentiment but added the state could help with giving residents some additional help once they go through the facility’s program. She said the insurance agencies provide less coverage in Illinois, and recovery homes can solve a few problems.

“Giving an option for a recovery home for a safe living environment would be an ideal situation in Southern Illinois,” she said, adding she has seen adolescent boys transition to recovery homes with major success. “I am happy to see that and be on that side of it, but I think we need more.”

Dr. Jeffrey Ripperda, a family doctor in Murphysboro, said he’s been disappointed in his own profession about the way some experienced physicians have handled the opioid problem. He said there are plenty of doctors who recognize the problem, but there are still doctors who live by the belief that the pain in the patient is what they said it is.

“There are doctors who continue to prescribe high doses of opioids and there are addicts in the area who know who those doctors are,” he said. “They seek them out and know what to say to get those opioids. Opioid pills are not coming up through Mexico or being synthetically manufactured. Every pill out there is prescribed by a physician somewhere.”

Ripperda called for a limit on opioids a physician can prescribe to a certain patient or similar measures.

There were comments made about drug courts and their usefulness as a deterrent, but some think the justice system needs to get involved before court in order to help turn a person’s life around before they even start to slide into addiction.

Carbondale city attorney Jamie Snyder said it is important to reach the younger generation when they are starting to learn about these drugs, and show them the consequences.

“If you are going to make change, you have to do as early on as possible,” he said. “It is much easier to teach a young pup tricks than it is an old dog.”

Jackson County Sheriff Robert Burns said opioids are a hard drug to track. He said in rural areas like Jackson County, people will travel to the St. Louis area to purchase drugs at a reduced rate, then come back and sell for a profit, while saving just enough of the drug for their own high. He said some people are spending about $1,000 a day.

“By the time we deal with them at the county facilities, it could be the best place for them,” Burns said. “At least we know they are getting fed properly and receiving medical attention. We have people who come into our facility over a 30- or 40-day period and will gain a pound each day.”

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti (top center) discusses the opioid situation in Southern Illinois with area health care and law enforcement officials at the Gateway Treatment Center on Tuesday in Carbondale.

He said there has to be some sort of transition period when they leave the county jail because they have detoxed while in jail, and when returning to society, there is a greater chance for overdose. He painted the picture of one heroin dealer who cuts the drug into eight doses, and another who cuts it into five doses; then, if an addict goes to the dealer who cuts it five times, there is a higher chance of an overdose.

“When we deal with drug addictions and mental health issues, we know we can’t arrest our way out of it, but they don’t need to be out there (on the street) either,” he said.

Anybody struggling with opioid addiction can call the state’s hotline at 1-833-2FINDHELP.

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Friends plan benefit for 26-year-old West City woman killed in Dec. 30 crash

HERRIN — Friends and family of Amber Mitchell will host a celebration of life benefit at noon Sunday, Jan. 14, at Teddy’s Sports Bar and Grill in Herrin. Mitchell, of West City and a former Herrin resident, was driving home early Dec. 30 when she was hit by a driver fleeing Herrin police.

Proceeds will go toward funeral expenses and a trust fund for Mitchell’s 11-month-old daughter, Adrianna. The celebration will include lunch plates of barbecue, baked beans, slaw and chips with a bottle of water for $10, or two plates for $18. The lunch is sponsored, so all of the money will go toward fundraising.

Music will start at about 1 p.m. and run through 7 p.m. Bands will include local musicians Clayton Gribble, Corey Evitts, John Ryan, Matt Basler, Dave Clark, Chris Sloan and Kali Lyn. A silent auction and raffle also are planned.

Dara Spiller Dye, one of the organizers of the celebration, said she, Mitchell, Sarah Sanders and Karlie Williams have known one another since they were about 5 years old.

“Three of us are doing the fundraiser for Amber," Dye said. "The four of us grew up together. We’ve kept very close throughout the years."

Dye, Williams and Mitchell were in Girl Scouts together from age 5 until they were freshmen in high school. Mitchell’s mother, the late Sue Mitchell, served as their Girl Scout leader.

Dye said her friend was one of those people who could always make you feel better if you had a hard day or needed a smile.

“Her smile was absolutely contagious, and so was her laugh," Dye said. "No matter what she was going through, she tried to make sure others had a good day."

Mitchell always had a memory to share or a jokes to make friends smile.

Mitchell was adopted when she was four days old by Mark W. and Susan Lee (Clark) Mitchell. Both parents preceded her in death.

When Mitchell’s car was struck, her daughter, Adrianna, was also in the car. She was not injured. “She actually turns 1 at the end month,” Dye said.

Dye said the three friends approached 28 businesses, and 22 of them knew Mitchell or donated. Dye said it was very moving, and thanked the Herrin community for its generosity.

“We just want everybody to know we are doing everything we can for her daughter and in memory of her,” Dye added.

Dye said children are allowed at Teddy’s during the daytime hours. Also, carryouts will be available for those who prefer to eat at home.

They have done one more thing to honor their friend and make sure everyone gets home safely — as a result, designated drivers will be available in honor of Mitchell for those who choose to drink and may need a ride home. They will have stickers identifying them as drivers.

For more information, visit Gone but not forgotten; The Amber Mitchell Benefit page on Facebook. To donate directly to the trust fund for Adriana, email John Dye at