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Articles by Shannon Heffernan

The Way Prisoners Flag Guard Abuse, Inadequate Health Care and Unsanitary Conditions Is Broken

Prisoners rely on grievances as an early-warning system for dangerous conditions, from poor medical care to abuse. But in Illinois, experts say the system is sputtering, with little oversight, resulting in injuries to prisoners.

This story was originally published by ProPublica. ProPublica Illinois is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to get weekly updates about our work. This article was produced in partnership with WBEZ, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Randy Liebich curled up in a ball on his bed inside Stateville prison, about an hour outside Chicago. It was June 2010, and he’d spent the night in a cold sweat, excruciating pain radiating from his back. For months, he’d been filing complaints with prison officials about the lack of medical care. But the forms, known as grievances, got him nowhere.

One was denied, in part because he’d already been to the doctor, and the denial noted he’d received acetaminophen pain medication. Another complaint was deemed moot.

Now Liebich was in the worst pain of his life. According to medical records, a kidney stone had made it impossible for him to urinate. The men in nearby cells ...