CHESTER — The deaths of three Illinois prisoners over three days from "probable intoxication" of an unknown substance have raised questions about drug use behind bars and whether inmates are watched closely enough, according to a published report.
WBEZ reported Monday that documents the Chicago radio station obtained and interviews it conducted suggest lax supervision before at least one of the deaths that occurred in September of last year at Menard Correctional Center in Chester.
The Illinois Department of Corrections defended itself, saying that staffers acted swiftly after the deaths and that its own internal investigation concluded the staffers could not have prevented any of the deaths.
But WBEZ said the three cases leave unanswered how the three inmates all were able to obtain substances before dying of what the coroner concluded was "probable intoxication."
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In one case, treatment unit administrator Lisa Goldman said her concerns that 31-year-old inmate Kevin Curtis appeared "catatonic" and severely dehydrated were ignored. And despite being on suicide watch at the time, a guard who was in charge of checking Curtis every 10 minutes told investigators that he had not conducted all the checks because he was helping with meals and even admitted that he falsified his report log to "make it look like he had done the required checks," WBEZ reported.
The Corrections Department noted in its investigation that Goldman was "not a medical physician and only provided her professional opinion as a medical health professional." As for the guard, he still works for the department, according to WBEZ.
The second man to die — 45-year-old Edwin Freeman — was in the cell next to Curtis and also on suicide watch. The report includes no indication that he was not checked as often as he should have been.
In the third death, WBEZ reported that it obtained documents containing prisoner statements, including one from an inmate who said he could hear prisoner Timothy Murray banging on his cell door for help after the morning meal. But, according to WBEZ, security staff did not return to Murray's cell until the afternoon meal was distributed. Murray was found unresponsive in his cell just days shy of his 33rd birthday.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said all three inmates were provided lifesaving measures. She said the department moved quickly to investigate what happened after they died.
"Autopsies were conducted, the institution was thoroughly searched and air quality tests conducted," Hess said. "Their deaths were part of an isolated case and no further drug-related deaths have occurred at IDOC."
Photos: A Look Inside Menard Correctional Center
From 2014: Southern Illinoisan reporter Nick Mariano and photographer Adam Testa were invited on a tour inside Menard Correctional Center, the maximum-security prison in Chester. These photos offer a rare glimpse into the sights behind the fence.