* Former Illinois prison warden Andrew Ott submitted an op-ed to several news outlets the other day about the problems within the Department of Corrections…
The current administrative policies and procedures of the Illinois Department of Corrections have allowed the street gangs/security threat groups to once again gain a hold in Illinois prisons.
After years of hard work by many devoted individuals in identifying and controlling street gang activities in the Illinois prison system, these proud staff have watched the last two years as their hard work went by the way side.
The current director and his policies of allowing this organizational activity to occur, without fear of Tamms placement or discipline, has allowed street gangs to organize and once again develop a communication network.
When confronted with fiscal budget contraints, the current director volunteered to shutter the super-max prison at Tamms. Many wondered why anyone with an extensive security background would suggest such a thing. While others thought it had always been on the director’s agenda and possibly had to do with his association with former Latin King gang members and their neighborhood improvement business, “the new Humboldt park saints,” major contributor and supporter of closing Tamms.
One must keep in mind and would have to question the events of staff being killed by gang members at Stateville Correctional Center during the director’s tenure there as assistant warden of operations. Another event during his tenure at Stateville was the disappearance of a Latin King that ended up in the meat loaf, his skull found some years later (this story can be researched).
Regardless, the outcome was the closing of the Tamms super-max and the deterrent was gone. The gang chiefs transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center now have access to Chicago street information through visits and also now have the capability to send messages throughout the other facilities across the state.
Ott has been texting and e-mailing me (and, I assume other reporters) for months about conditions at prisons. Sometimes, we’ve been getting almost real-time updates on prison violence. Several news outlets appear to have used his updates for stories about prison conditions. It’s been a fascinating experience.
But I’ve been wondering all along about what the real context was. Is violence spiking since Tamms was closed?
* So I asked the Department of Corrections for a response. Here it is…
This article is irresponsible and inaccurate. His unsupported allegations do a great disservice to the thousands of men and women who work hard to keep our facilities safe each and every day.
Per your request for numbers:
* Serious assaults on staff members and on inmates, system-wide, are lower this fiscal year than they were in FY12.
o Serious inmate on inmate assaults are down with 99 in FY13 compared to 171 in FY12 (July-Feb).
o Serious staff assaults have decreased with 75 in FY13 compared to 96 in FY12 (July-Feb).
* Additionally, assaults utilizing weapons has decreased this fiscal year.
In July-Feb of FY 12 there were 30 assaults in which weapons were used. This year 17 assaults have involved a weapon.
The department investigates every incident of assault and takes each case seriously. We do not downplay nor minimize any assault. In fact, the IDOC has engaged in a concerted effort to refer assaults to the local State’s Attorney’s office for prosecution. These actions serve to send a clear message to offenders and staff alike, that the IDOC takes assaults extremely seriously and will work with the State’s Attorney to prosecute those found guilty.
The article misleads readers and implies that there is a lack of disciplinary tools following the closure of Tamms. This is false. The department has a wide range of options (depending on the severity of the underlying offense) ranging from loss of commissary, visits or other privileges to administrative detention and segregation. Pontiac continues to serve as our long term segregation facility and the department will continue to place inmates in segregation if their behavior warrants such discipline.
The department’s investigations and intelligence division works diligently and takes full advantage of a wide range of measures to root out gang activity (inside and outside IDOC walls) before it happens. This unit utilizes informants, as well as routine cell and inmate searches, interviews, and other measures to prevent and control gang activity. The department balances the housing of gang members within the facilities and keeps gang leaders away from the general population. Inmate phone calls and mail are monitored and inmates are not permitted to correspond with inmates in other facilities. Inmates’ visitors are heavily screened by Investigations and Intel staff prior to approval and no known gang members are permitted to visit an offender.
IDOC’s investigations unit has expanded considerably in the near decade since Mr. Ott’s brief involvement. Since its inception, this unit has grown in size and expanded its mission from internal intelligence to a larger public safety presence. The unit has never deviated from its primary mission of focusing on issues within the Illinois Department of Corrections facilities.
The Department of Corrections is a far safer system than it was decades ago, and will continue to do all it can to increase safety and security while making efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Director Godinez has more than 40 years of correctional expertise and was unanimously confirmed by the senate two years ago. Corrections is a tough business. A lot of hard choices need to be made and it takes someone with the experience and knowledge to make the tough decisions when necessary.
The safety of the public and the security of our facilities continues to be our top priority.