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Report finds “alarming” conditions at state prison

Wednesday, Oct 5, 2011

* So, of course, what we need to do right away is close a prison and lay off guards

Too many inmates and too few guards have led to dangerous conditions at the state’s second oldest prison, according to a report issued Tuesday.

The report by the John Howard Association said the Menard Correctional Center in Chester has had an “alarming” number of staff and inmate assaults this year, primarily because the prison has the worst inmate-to-staff ratio of all of Illinois’ maximum-security facilities.

The Chicago-based prison watchdog group said there have been 14 staff assaults since Jan. 1, including one in the prison library that sent a correctional officer to a St. Louis hospital with facial fractures.

“Inadequate security not only jeopardizes the physical safety of inmates and staff, but it also undermines rehabilitation efforts and creates a psychologically damaging environment for everyone who lives and works behind the prison wall,” the report noted.

Great. Wonderful.

* More from the report

* Over the last year and a half, Menard was on full or partial lockdown roughly half of the time.

* The average inmate at Menard spends roughly 21 to 22 hours a day locked in cells idle, with little or no activity or opportunity for normal social and human interaction.

* A few of the John Howard Association’s recommendations

(1) The Illinois Governor and General Assembly must reduce the prison population through sentencing reform, enacting a safe replacement for Meritorious Good Time, and providing Menard and other DOC facilities with the funding and staffing needed to meet the population’s basic physical and mental health needs. If such actions are not taken, it is all but inevitable that this issue will end up being litigated in the courts.

(2) The practice of using prolonged segregation to discipline mentally ill inmates should be abandoned at Menard and all DOC facilities. […]

(3) Further inquiry should be undertaken by Menard’s administration and the DOC to determine whether excessive use of force and abuse of inmates may be a systemic problem at Menard, given the unusually high number of reports JHA received from inmates of abuse by correctional staff.

* Meanwhile

Officials in Lincoln expect a full house at a public hearing Oct. 26 on Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close Logan Correctional Center.

The hearing will begin at 5 p.m. in the chapel at Lincoln Christian University in Lincoln.

“We really need to pack the place and show our support for the prison,” Lincoln Mayor Keith Snyder said. […]

To oppose the closure, a coalition of Logan County business, labor and economic development groups has formed, the Lincoln City Council has sent a letter to Quinn, and more than 1,800 people have signed petitions in Lincoln.

That isn’t very many signatures, considering the economic impact of closing that facility. Lincoln has a history of dealing with state closures, so you’d think they’d be more organized.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Aldyth - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 7:02 am:

    Reform needs to include taking a serious look at how drug offenders are sentenced.

  2. - Hank - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 8:00 am:

    The way I see this, this Corrections issue starts with the legislature. The options are either sentencing reform, build more prisons, or pay through the nose in litigation and also risk riots. It’s sad our some of our legislators do not appear to recognize the safety risks associated to this problem.

  3. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 8:10 am:

    I give the John Howard folks a lot of points for their work, but in bad economic times there’s not enough oxygen in the room for prison conditions to get reasonable consideration.

  4. - Peter Snarker - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 8:17 am:

    I second Aldyth. After watching Ken Burns’ “Prohibition” this week I am reminded again as to the dolly of our drug policy.

  5. - Ghost - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 8:22 am:

    if only we had some brand new state of the art high security facility online sitting vacant just waiting for inmates and staff /cough

  6. - Wilson Pickett - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 8:42 am:

    Why not try using a government outsourced service (private industry) on a trial basis for running one or two of our state prisons? It would show us if the private sector could more cost effectively run our state penal institutions. Other states have already checked into this and they are currently cost-effectively using these type of companies. Let’s take just one example: a firm called Corrections Corp. of America operates 66 correctional and detention facilities in nineteen states. Yep, 19 other states. It owns 45 facilities. Here is another bonus that I like (”icing on the cake”)–This firm often buys excess corrrectional facilities that the state governments no longer need.It gives the state governments a quick shot of cash and they no longer need to incur the expense of maintaining these “unneeded” prisons.

    In the past, we have always foregone looking into this idea because no Illinois politician was willing to challenge a government employee union and risk their future political career. Today, Illinois is in an economic crisis. We can no longer indulge these politically driven decisions. Who knows? We may find that these privately run prisons are not the way to go and that our Illinois state-run prisons are actually more economical for Illinois taxpayers pockets. However, quite a few of our neighboring states have found this “not to be the case”. They have found these private firms have been able to provide better, more inmate-friendly environments (which provide educational programs, etc.), and it is all done at a substantial savings for that state’s taxpayers.Private industry is not burdened down with bloated and expensive union pensions, lucrative benefits to state employees, prison job qualifications based on political patronage, etc.,etc.
    All I am suggesting is that Pat Quinn (or somebody (anybody!) (Republican or Democrat) from among our elected state officials should be looking into this potentially cost-effective means of helping to balance our state budget. Many of the other states have discovered that it is a Win /Win for their state’s citizens as well as their state’s incarcerated inmates.The concept should at least be considered, studied, and quickly put into action on a small trial basis in a couple of correctional facilities in Illinois. The Geo Group (headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida–phone 561-893-0101) and Corrections Corp. of America (headquarters in Nashville, TN–phone-615-263-3000) are but only two of these firms where Quinn could start. There are many other firms as well that can offer the services that we desire. The current economic reality for Illinois dictates that it is time to think “out of the box”.

  7. - RJW - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 9:42 am:


    That is just a dumb argument. It’s like saying: “I’m sorry that the roof in your office is caving in and the window is broken, but in these tough economic times we just can’t afford to do anything about it.” It’s called prioritization. Correctional institutions are in dire condition, physically and otherwise. You can’t just continue to ignore the problem.

  8. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 9:43 am:

    Sorry. That was me above. RJW is my alter ego. LOL.

  9. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 10:09 am:

    Yeah, what ghost said.

  10. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 10:18 am:

    The first thing that came to my mind was we need to reform our drug laws and not send non-violent drug offenders to prison. The war on drugs is a wasteful, ineffective, corrupt policy.

  11. - Gregor - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 10:44 am:

    This crowding is a pressure cooker waiting to blow. It has beem allowed to get worse because voters don’t care that crooks are warehoused in dungeon-like conditions, as long as they are off the streets. But the conditions in these prisons are a super-incubator for creating even worse criminals when tese men do eventually get out, and they will get out into a world with no safety net to help them transition to a legit life. These guys are being programmed to re-offend, and to do it on a grander scale than when they went in. People are going to die, inside the walls, and later, outside of them. We have to have a rational approach to corrections policy, and it has to be properly funded, along with the probation, education, and job-search programs to handle these men when they come out.

  12. - Lil Enchilada - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 10:46 am:

    I know a guy who gets to come home on weekends - while he’s doing time. He told me he’s making a ton of money doing work release and that he lives outside the prison. Is that how it really works or am I being stupid?

  13. - reformer - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 12:19 pm:

    Enacting a new form of Meritorious Good Time would alleviate the crowding, the violence & the expense. That’s what the G.A. ought to do during Veto.

  14. - Cook County Commoner - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 12:57 pm:

    The issue with Illinois prison over-crowding is a US issue. The US leads the world’s nations (those that report numbers) for persons incarcerated. The only nation that even gets close to the US incarceration figures is Russia. (US is 743 per 100,000; Russia is 577 per 100,000.)Russia equaled or surpassed the US with prisoners per 100,000 when it was the USSR and operated the Gulag prison camp system. England, on the other hand, (including Wales) with which we share a common law tradition, incarcerates 150 per 100,000. And let’s not forget that 70% in US prisons are non-white. (data from Wikipedia)

    Seems like the US incarceration rate is more the result of failed social policy in non-white communities. Lousy public schooling, lousy policing, lousy housing and lousy lawyering.

  15. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 1:02 pm:

    Here’s an idea ;),26173/

  16. - Ahoy - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 1:09 pm:

    1,800 isn’t bad, it’s nearly 13% of the entire city’s population… not shabby for getting started.

  17. - tired of press - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 1:15 pm:

    We wouldn’t face overcrowding if we managed our prison population better. That means 1) lowering recidivism by doing the opposite of what Menard does, 2) restoring MGT and 3) doing precisely what other states have done which was release some people using the existing laws of the land for good time.

    You may recall we tried to do just that in 2009. MGT Push let people out an average of 37 days earlier than they would have been without MGT Push. Can we handle that yet?

    If you want to lower recidivism, lower returns to prison, and reduce overcrowding, you can’t run the prisons this way.

  18. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 1:22 pm:

    –That is just a dumb argument. –

    It’s not an argument, it’s an observation.

  19. - Gregor - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 1:39 pm:

    I seem to recall a story where a state outsourced a prison operation to a private company buy had to take it back because the company was a huge failure operationally. The legal liabilities in a state/private prison arrangement are also potentially very sticky.

    Finally, the penal system is not supposed to be a for-profit industry, it is supposed to be a reformatory system that changes offender behavior and returns better people than what went in. It’s a social cost serving a civic need. Private companies, responsive to shareholders, would concentrate on being efficient warehouse of human beings, but I doubt they would do much of anything for reforming criminals. They wouldn’t even make a pretense of it.

  20. - Colossus - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 2:28 pm:

    I would never, in any way, support an effort to give a private corporation the legal authority to incarcerate a citizen of the state of Illinois. This is precisely the kind of activity that governments are created to do, that which we don’t trust private groups to handle.

    Do you want Haliburton or Goldman Sachs involved in locking people up for years at a time? And before you think it coudnlt happen, ask yourself who is making the profit off Chicago’s parking deal.

  21. - amalia - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 5:51 pm:

    why is a key observation of the JHAssn. the racial makeup of the prison? demographic info, yes, key assessment, no. start putting in some information about calls for service and victims by race when you discuss offenders and the reason for the percentages becomes clear. it’s not a key finding of the prison system.

    MGood Time…..oh no, here we go, back to the 80s. Before Thompson admin officials started closing down juvy facilities to save money and convert to adult use, they also abused the rules with interpretations to let people out earlier than was permitted. this, of course, led to crimes that would not have been committed if the person were still incarcerated. and led to lawsuits against the Thompson admin which stopped the “interpretation” of the law.

    and once upon a time Minnesota had a grid which tied sentencing to prison population. so a rapist could get a lesser sentence if there was overcrowding. ugh. bad idea. need to figure out these ways of good time with great care.

    the drug sentenced inmates getting out is not necessarily the cure. remember, people go in based on the offense at hand and a criminal record, if any. things pile up. if there is a person convicted of a drug offense and they had a prior for an offense against person, things add up. it’s not as easy as many make it out to be. that said, anyone put in for possession of personal use marijuana without any other criminal record would be wrong. but how many of those are out there? not many.

  22. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 8:05 pm:

    WP: well, for one reason, because it’s illegal in Illinois

  23. - Mike - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 9:26 pm:

    Quinn needs to restart MGT now at least temporarily till he and the GA come up with something better. How many more deaths, injuries, and unnecessary illness do we need to be sued for?

  24. - bored with press - Wednesday, Oct 5, 11 @ 10:04 pm:

    amalia, your post is pretty much incomprehensible.

  25. - Anonymous - Thursday, Oct 6, 11 @ 8:11 am:

    if you balance your rosters you find help from within. This number is highly not alarming but a warning of things to come if not managed right.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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