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Union: Transfers affect safety

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CAIRO — Illinois Department of Corrections employees detailed a number of possible safety risks at their respective institutions during an evidentiary hearing Monday in Alexander County court.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 is suing the state for an injunction to stop Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close prisons in Dwight and Tamms, as well as a number of other state facilities.

Lawyers for AFSCME presented five witnesses to Judge Charles Cavaness on Monday, all union local presidents who work at Tamms, Pinckneyville, East Moline and Stateville adult prisons and the Harrisburg juvenile facility.

Each witness detailed problems with overcrowding and understaffing in each of their prisons and they said inmate violence has increased in recent years as a result.

The men, who have all worked for IDOC since before Tamms Correctional Center was opened, also detailed the positive effect the super-max facility had on the entire system.

Randy Hellman, a supply supervisor 3 at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, said his facility — a high-medium security prison — now has 25 maximum-security inmates.

“We’re not meant to handle that, especially according to directives,” Hellman said.

Hellman said Pinckneyville prison was at capacity right now, about 2,250 inmates, they have 40 open staff positions and there have been about 14 assaults this year, as of June.

Greg Johnson, a supply supervisor at East Moline Correctional Center, said their shifts have one correctional officer to every 100 inmates.

East Moline — a minimum security facility that has historically served as a transition back to society for inmates with less than two years left in their sentences — has 1,420 inmates on a former mental hospital campus that was designed for 688.

There were not enough mattresses or clothing for a recent transfer of 100 inmates from Stateville, Johnson said.

There have been two escape attempts in the past year, Johnson said, and an uprising in a dormitory that resulted in the gassing of inmates to get them under control.

Ralph Portwood, a correctional officer at Stateville, said his facility’s northern reception center has 2,000 beds with a current population of 2,800.

Portwood described inmates sleeping like sardines in infirmary holding cells and about 200 inmates sleeping on the floor of a gymnasium because of Stateville’s lack of beds in the NRC.

Randy Miller, a juvenile justice specialist at Illinois Youth Center Harrisburg, said in 1997, his facility had 500 offenders.

By June 2012, that number was 180, but from mid-June to August, Miller said, 150 more offenders were transferred there.

Miller said staffing had decreased in the years population had declined, but with the recent transfers, those officers have not been replaced.

Juvenile offenders are also no longer classified as minimum-, medium- or maximum-security, Miller said, which makes it difficult to determine how to handle the offender population.

Miller also testified the amount of overtime employees have to work — sometimes double shifts — has had an effect on their home life and their performance.

“Nobody would ever admit they’re not capable of doing their job, but statistics shows it wears on you,” Miller said.

The evidentiary hearing continues today in Alexander County court.


On Twitter: @BrentStewartSI


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