Federal lawsuit filed over prison debate team

CHICAGO -- The Uptown People's Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections for shutting down a prison debate team.

This spring, WGN Investigates profiled inmates who participated a prison debate team at the Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet.

The men are serving life sentences for murder and as part of the debate team, they argued both sides of expanding parole opportunities in Illinois.

The inmates performed their debate for 18 state legislators.

Shortly after, IDOC shut the program down and banned the volunteer debate coach from visiting any prison in the state.
The lawsuit claims head of corrections Gladyse Taylor told the inmates, “We don't need legislators thinking about your issues, we need them to give us the money we need.”

Internal emails obtained by WGN Investigates revealed several state lawmakers who were at the debate reached out to prison officials to praise the program and ask why it was abruptly scrapped. It’s unclear how they responded.

An IDOC spokesperson has never provided a specific reason other than to say the debate program was being "reviewed."