Guards, IDOC chief at odds over prison staffing

2012-12-01T01:00:00Z 2013-09-12T16:13:57Z Guards, IDOC chief at odds over prison staffingBY D.W. NORRIS, The Southern The Southern
December 01, 2012 1:00 am  • 

VIENNA — The Vienna Correctional Center is a minimum-security prison in Johnson County with an overcrowding problem that many guards say is the norm in the state’s prison system.

A tour of the facility by about a dozen reporters and Illinois Department of Corrections personnel Friday showed understaffing was just as big a problem.

Fewer than 180 employees are on staff to control more than 1,600 inmates in a prison designed to hold about 900.

Warden Randy Davis said he would like to add a few dozen guards to reach optimum staffing levels. IDOC Director S.A. “Tony” Godinez said 64 guards would be added if Gov. Pat Quinn can close the Tamms supermax prison and other facilities.

Quinn’s veto of corrections spending was overridden by the state Senate. The Illinois House could, theoretically, prevent Quinn from spending the money anywhere else if it overrides his veto.

At Vienna, corrections officers are required to work overtime shifts to keep key posts manned, but in some of the prison’s most populated areas, such as Building 19, the staffing is stretched thin.

“The overcrowding situation, I think you saw it today, especially in Building 19,” Lt. Mike Turner said. “Second and third floors, you have 100 inmates on the second floor there with two staff on the first and second shift, and on midnight we have one staff. Third floor, we have almost 400 inmates with three staff.

“That’s just an example of the rest of the institution, how we’re staffed.”

Davis said forced overtime was not a danger to staff, at least not at Vienna.

“It’s not going to be any different than them being home,” he said. “We got a lot of staff making a lot of money right now.”

Turner, who said he worked 49 overtime hours the last two weeks, disagreed with Davis’ assessment, saying he feels “much safer” on his couch than “surrounded by 400 inmates with three other staff to depend on.”

Although the level of danger is lower at minimum-security Vienna than it is at prisons with more violent populations, a spokesman for the union representing Vienna’s guards said things could change.

“We are seeing violence spike in places where we’d never seen violence before, with populations very much like this one here,” said the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee’s Spokesman Eddie Caumiant. “Luckily, it hasn’t happened at Vienna, but it has at East Moline, and all it took was a blackout, four hours without power made that inmate population really unhappy and disgruntled and they voiced it and expressed it with a very few number of staff there to respond.

“Our concern is that when you do everything on a shoestring, as it’s clear that they’ve done here and done a good job with, that it only takes a thread to unravel the whole thing.”

Godinez said IDOC’s budget is about the same as it was five years ago.

“We have done the best that we can with the limited resources we have,” Godinez said.

On Twitter: @DW_Norris_SI

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