Best of #StateReads: Illinois Fails to Investigate Abuse and Neglect in Deaths of Disabled

  • July 18, 2012
  • By Daniel C. Vock

This week's collection of #StateReads looks at the failure of an Illinois agency to investigate the deaths of disabled patients who suffered from abuse and neglect, the methods payday lenders use to avoid New York's usury laws, and the sudden attention paid by Kentucky mine inspectors toward a mine that had been closed by the federal government.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to

“Hidden suffering, hidden death” — Belleville News-Democrat

The inspector general of the Illinois Department of Human Services stepped down and Governor Pat Quinn intervened in response to an ongoing newspaper series about the agency's failure to investigate signs of neglect and abuse of disabled adults who died. Reporters George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer (@bhundsdorfer) described in graphic detail the conditions suffered by the patients, including a man who died after the skin on his feet boiled off from a scalding foot bath and a roach-covered woman who could not move after months of being neglected. “Now,” Pawlaczyk writes, the agency “says it will review all deaths where abuse or neglect is suspected. The reviews are the result of a recent executive order issued by… Quinn to revamp the agency.”

“Ballot initiatives draw from narrow interests, not broad grass roots” — St. Louis Beacon

Just a few sources accounted for most of the campaign spending when Missouri voters decided issues at the ballot box over the last four years, writes Jason Rosenbaum (@jrosenbaum). Plus, he adds, “initiatives with a relatively narrow and small range of funders tended to win over the past two election cycles.” For example, gambling interests spent $14 million to convince voters to remove loss limits at casinos, which would bolster their bottom line. Voters agreed. A single donor also spent $11.2 million to campaign for a plan to let local voters decide whether to keep earnings taxes in St. Louis and Kansas City. The measure passed, although local voters later kept the taxes.

“Payday loans, illegal on the street, thrive in New York's cyberspace” — City Limits

New York State caps interest rates that small lenders can charge at 16 percent, but the high-interest payday loan industry is thriving online, writes John Sandman (@citylimitsorg). The business continues, even after action taken by both Elliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo during their respective terms as attorney general. “While opening a store in a state with a payday ban is too conspicuous to be practical,” Sandman writes, “the Internet is a good place to hide.” His piece also explores how payday lenders operate in the 17 other states that restrict their lending.

“Kentucky mine inspectors were lax in Harlan” — The Courier-Journal

Kentucky state mine inspectors looked at a coal mine in southeast Kentucky 30 times over two and a half years and let work there continue. But federal inspectors found enough violations in a surprise visit in May to shut down the mine for nine days, writes James R. Carroll (@courierjournal). Even then, it took a Courier-Journal story to get state inspectors to take another look, Carroll reports. The state then found 37 violations in its own surprise investigation, “far more violations on one visit than (in) five earlier inspections this year and roughly two dozen separate inspections during 2010 and 2011.”

“Hundreds of offenders on roads” — The Boston Herald

Repeat drunken drivers continue to drive legally in Massachusetts, despite a law requiring people with five or more drunken driving convictions to lose their licenses for life, reports John Zaremba (@johnzaremba). State records show 947 drivers with five convictions still are allowed to drive, because some or all of their convictions came before the 2006 mandatory revocation law. Zaremba called it “a frightening figure that averages nearly three chronic offenders for every town in the state.”