SPRINGFIELD — A prison watchdog group says there are few signs of improvement in the living conditions at a Southern Illinois lock-up, despite promises by the Illinois Department of Corrections to fix the problems dating back more than three years.
In a report released this week, the Chicago-based John Howard Association documented a litany of first-hand observations and complaints from prisoners revealing that the deterioration of the Vienna Correctional Center continues to plague the agency, which is being sued by a group of inmates seeking to reverse years of neglect and overcrowding at the minimum-security facility.
The federal class-action lawsuit, which is in the settlement stages, is just one issue facing the Illinois Department of Corrections as it attempts to shoehorn more than 48,000 inmates into space designed for 33,000 prisoners.
In its report, the group said inmates complained of urine stained mattresses, mold, rodents, broken windows and spiders.
"Inmates showed us plastic-wrapped snack food from their storage boxes that had been chewed and eaten by mice and marks on their bodies attributed to spider bites, which was a common complaint," the report noted.
The complaints, compiled during a October 2014 visit to the prison, mirror those uncovered in 2011 and outlined again in the 2012 prisoner lawsuit.
Most of the complaints center on one dormitory within the prison complex — Building 19.
Prison administrators say they have made improvements.
"Since the visit, administrators stated that they have instituted a more rigorous cleaning schedule so that Building 19 showers, walls, and floors are supposed to be cleaned daily with weekly shower deep cleaning to address mold," the report notes.
But, they said some of the problems would have to wait until larger construction issues were resolved, such as repairing leaks in roofs and replacing broken windows.
JHA Acting Executive Director Jennifer Vollen-Katz said there has been little evidence of significant improvement. But, she said it appears Corrections officials are finally ramping up efforts to overhaul some of the buildings.
"There's maybe a handful more staff and there is evidence of construction having begun," Vollen-Katz said.
In addition to mold and vermin, the report also noted that the inmates complained they were being served hot dogs or sausages for half of all of their meals.
Prison officials acknowledged the food quality at the facility might be subpar because 50 percent of the kitchen equipment is inoperable, including broken fryers, grills and ovens.
"Another inmate stated that conditions were worse than in Detroit homeless shelters," the report noted.
Corrections spokeswoman Nicole Wilson said the agency would not comment on the report because of the ongoing federal lawsuit.
"The IDOC does not respond to questions relating to pending litigation," Wilson wrote in an email.