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What the heck is going on at the Pontiac prison?

Thursday, Dec 6, 2018

* Christine Herman at Illinois Public Media

The Illinois Department of Corrections continues to flounder in its efforts to care for inmates with mental illness, according to a new report authored by Dr. Pablo Stewart, a psychiatrist and court-appointed monitor on a 2016 settlement agreement on a class-action lawsuit. […]

The report singles out Pontiac Correctional Center for having a “culture of abuse and retaliation” against mentally ill inmates.

The monitoring team found both an “informal use of force and retaliation system” and “evidence of intimidation of the mental health staff at Pontiac by the custody staff”—problems that have persisted since the lawsuit was settled 30 months ago.

“It is my opinion as Monitor that the Department has not done anything to effectively address this ongoing problem at Pontiac,” wrote Dr. Stewart, adding that he is “absolutely convinced” that staff are physically assaulting mentally ill inmates there.

We as a state don’t provide decent mental health care for our residents, then we turn jails and prisons into de facto mental health centers, then we abuse the mentally ill inmates and people trying to help them. Wonderful.

* From the report

I have also encountered the presence of an elaborate system of retaliation perpetrated by the custody staff against the mentally ill offenders at Pontiac. These retaliatory acts include, but are not limited to:

    1. Withholding of food/visits/phone calls.
    2. Not allowing certain mentally ill offenders to attend required structured or unstructured activities.
    3. Setting up certain mentally ill offenders for assault by labeling them “snitches.”
    4. Providing mentally ill offenders with the means for them to perform self-injurious behaviors (i.e. staples, paperclips, or other sharp objects.)
    5. Planting incriminating evidence in the cells of mentally ill offenders, such as weapons or other forms of contraband.

* And

During my site visits, I often encounter mentally ill offenders who present with injuries to their heads and face. I have even encountered mentally ill offenders with newly missing teeth and physical exam evidence of recent trauma to their faces. If I had encountered these types of injuries with my own patients, I would be obligated to report them to the police.

There’s more, so go read the whole thing if you can stomach it.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

36 Comments »
  1. - Leigh John-Ella - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:14 am:

    Wait. Are you telling me that closing Tamms didn’t solve the problem, it merely moved it?
    Shocked and appalled.
    Didn’t see that coming.


  2. - Anonymous - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:16 am:

    Sounds like the custody staff should be in custody themselves.


  3. - Kyle Hillman - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:21 am:

    “We as a state don’t provide decent mental health care for our residents, then we turn jails and prisons into de facto mental health centers, then we abuse the mentally ill inmates and people trying to help them. “

    This is Illinois.


  4. - Earnest - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:25 am:

    >court-appointed monitor on a 2016 settlement agreement on a class-action lawsuit

    I keep returning to fact that it is the courts, and not Illinois’ elected leaders, who are the source of improvements to supports for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, or children in need of supports from DCFS. This report can’t even be explained away as Illinois lacking the financial resources to address the problem. It’s all about leadership.


  5. - State worker - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:30 am:

    ==RE Leigh John-Ella
    Wait. Are you telling me that closing Tamms didn’t solve the problem, it merely moved it?
    Shocked and appalled. Didn’t see that coming. ==

    Are you saying this is because so many of the Tamms staff were moved to Pontiac? That’s a reasonable theory.

    I’m sure you agree that people with mental illnesses are not responsible for a culture of violence and abuse at the institutions charged with taking care of them.


  6. - Retired Educator - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:45 am:

    During the Quinn years, there was a separation of Juvenile Justice, and the Dept. of Corrections. During that time period, Special Education services were abandoned in Adult facilities. Many 17 to 20 year old inmates who were entitled to service, had those services denied. Illinois has been in violation of FAPE and ADA. ADA for those who do not know means the Americans with Disability Act. The above age group are entitled by law to receive special education services. Illinois has been in violation for over 7 years. So the above article does not surprise me, it disgusts me, but I am not surprised by the lack of empathy for those with special needs.


  7. - Cheryl44 - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:46 am:

    This isn’t Illinois. This is everywhere.


  8. - Duke of Normandy - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:50 am:

    I worked at Pontiac for about 4 years as a counselor, Pontiac is a unique beast even within DOC, and if you’ve never spent time there, it’s impossible to get a good grasp on how difficult it is to work there. Lack of support from administration has created a bad situation for line staff.


  9. - wordslinger - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 11:56 am:

    –I have also encountered the presence of an elaborate system of retaliation perpetrated by the custody staff against the mentally ill offenders at Pontiac.–

    Livingston County State’s Attorney Yedinak might want to get more personally involved in his job.

    If he won’t, I guess Raoul will have to try. Or U.S. Attorney Milhiser.

    C’mon — do your jobs, already.


  10. - Duopoly - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 12:06 pm:

    =If he won’t, I guess Raoul will have to try. Or U.S. Attorney Milhiser.

    C’mon — do your jobs, already.=
    Under the current AG policy, If the state is sued for the abuse then it will be Raoul’s job to defend it.


  11. - Generic Drone - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 12:09 pm:

    Prisons should not be used for housing many of the mentally ill. Closing facilities that can assist with the mantal health community have consequences. There is no easy solution, but this is not working.


  12. - Orange Crush - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 12:09 pm:

    Wonder if ‘Orange Crush’ is still a thing?


  13. - Fixer - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 12:17 pm:

    As former security staff there, I concur with what Duke of Normandy said regarding it being different from the other IDOC facilities. Going through the academy, a common theme for the trainings was “This applies to everywhere but Pontiac, they’ll explain when you get there.” Which ended up being true for most things. Segregation exists for a reason, though, and while there needs to be massive improvements to the mental health system in IDOC, there is a lot of reliance in this report on statements from inmates regarding the excessive force issue.


  14. - SI Native - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 12:20 pm:

    Attempting to turn prisons into mental hospitals simply will not work. Each institution performs a necessary function, but pretending one can do the job of the other is a fantasy.

    The prisons in this state were placed where they are because of the pool of employees needed for a prison can easily be found in those little towns like Vienna, etc. For hospitals and mental health treatment, however, you need a different employee set, and those people are generally found in metropolitan areas. Attempting to create treatment centers within places like Pontiac and Logan were doomed because it is simply not possible to find enough medical professionals willing to live in those places and work those very hard jobs, for that pay.


  15. - Nearly Normal - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 12:21 pm:

    FYI Orange Crush–
    https://www.bnd.com/news/local/article58855968.html


  16. - Anonymous - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 12:34 pm:

    “It isn’t, it should be,”

    Why did you say it should be?


  17. - Milkman - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 12:37 pm:

    Maybe they shouldn’t have closed all the actual mental health facilities


  18. - Anon - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 1:09 pm:

    Thanks for covering this, Rich. Too few even care. Re: Orange Crush question above, yes, it is. I think there is a lawsuit underway about some specific OC incidents at Menard.


  19. - Anonymous - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 2:09 pm:

    This is all so sad. The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment really hit the mark.


  20. - work in progress - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 3:06 pm:

    I worked at Pontiac cc for most of my 25 year bit. have I seen abusive staff ? sure but not many and they get fired when caught. The great majority of employees are dedicated hard working men and women trying to do a difficult and thankless job.I would caution you to take inmate testimony with a dumptruck of salt.


  21. - Anonymous - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 3:28 pm:

    Abuse of mentally ill inmates is par for the course…I watched two hacks spread a hallucinating prisoner’s legs open while the third hack hit him in the nuts with a nightstick to keep him quiet…the hacks joke about the “stick” being a better treatment than anti-psychotic drugs.

    I am sickened every time I recall this particular incidence of abuse…what bothers me most was their level of glee…Prisons are perfect for attracting ignorant racist sadists…never gonna change…while Prisons remain in the same form.


  22. - Crispy - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 3:58 pm:

    This is obscene.

    For Fixer@12:17 and others with knowledge, why is Pontiac different than other maximum-security facilities in the state?


  23. - Fixer - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 4:33 pm:

    Because while the majority of inmates at the other two max facilities in the state are considered general population, the ones at Pontiac were at the time almost exclusively in segregation status for various reasons (assualts, arson, misconduct, etc). Makes for a very different type of environment for both staff and inmates.


  24. - Anonymous - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 5:20 pm:

    -I would caution you to take inmate testimony with a dumptruck of salt.-

    And the mental health workers are also lying? And the monitoring team are just a bunch of old fools?


  25. - What a joke - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 5:23 pm:

    Having worked at one of our fine institutions that is being increasingly geared towards mental health due to the lawsuit that originated as a money grab scheme by the inmate I can say that its all a joke. The steps being implemented are weak at best. Inmates are offered “community meetings” to allow them to sit in a dayroom and have discussions led by a mental health professional that typically revolve around mind numbing trivia, reading of “motivational” material and other wastes of time. Do you know who cares less about the mental health of inmates more so than the staff in charge? The damn inmates, they only participate in hopes of getting good time and extra dayroom privileges. It’s only another way for them to work the system, get a free diagnosis while locked up and use it to milk the system when released claiming they are handicapped and need SSI.


  26. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 5:28 pm:

    ===It’s only another way for them to work the system===

    But there’s no hostility by the guards to this program. Nope. None.


  27. - ArchPundit - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 6:54 pm:

    ===This is all so sad. The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment really hit the mark.

    Yes and no. The experiment showed the importance of having institutions, rules, and oversight that encourages humane treatment. The state just doesn’t enforce such.


  28. - wordslinger - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 7:03 pm:

    –Under the current AG policy, If the state is sued for the abuse then it will be Raoul’s job to defend it.–

    Currently, the AG office is defending the state in the Quincy wrongful death lawsuits, while also reportedly presenting evidence to an Adams County grand jury on alleged crimes on the same set of facts.

    I don’t quite understand how that is kosher, but it’s happening.


  29. - Nonametoday - Thursday, Dec 6, 18 @ 7:46 pm:

    An inmate just committed suicide there last night. He was intimidated into it by a Major, and mental health problems. They over use orange crush there as in daily. I could go on and on but most people don’t care about them, lock them up and throw away the key. I truly wish they had to wear cameras, yes I know they have cameras but they also know where they are not. Just treat people decent unless they give you a valid reason not to. And yes their are some who are decent.


  30. - Anonymous - Friday, Dec 7, 18 @ 12:47 am:

    Some of you need to actually go work at an IDOC facility to realize that most of the time an inmate is lying about what is actually going on, inmates make false claims against Officers and other staff all the time. Please remember that the inmate is not in prison for over due library books, the inmate has committed a crime, and that is why he/she is in prison.


  31. - Anonymous - Friday, Dec 7, 18 @ 7:35 am:

    -most of the time an inmate is lying about what is actually going on-

    Ok, so what about guards providing a mental patient with a sharp object, so he can hurt himself. Who is lying?
    What about the intimidation and harassment of mental health providers? Who is lying, the mental health providers?


  32. - work in progress - Friday, Dec 7, 18 @ 9:58 am:

    your mental picture of the guard with his bag of staples and paper clips that he hands out to inmates is way off base.
    you would be surprised by the amount of legal work generated by lawyers and the court system that makes its way to the prisons.
    the mail room is where it is first processed and being that they have minimal staff they sometimes miss a staple or paperclip.
    the officer on the gallery double checks before they hand it to the inmate.
    mind you he or she has little time to accomplish this due to the busy schedule of the unit.meals,rec.showers,etc.trust me there is much more.so things can be missed.
    the mental health and obserbers are not working the galleries.so stop pretending you know what they see.
    as the commercial said(that’s not how any of this works.)
    being yesterdays post I am probably talking to myself but the misinformation and dark light thrown on staff is unjustified.


  33. - Anon. - Friday, Dec 7, 18 @ 10:10 am:

    This article is laughable. It’s a max security seg institution for a reason. The inmates are not exactly upstanding citizens.


  34. - wordslinger - Friday, Dec 7, 18 @ 10:25 am:

    –This article is laughable. It’s a max security seg institution for a reason. The inmates are not exactly upstanding citizens.–

    My, you just blew right past those allegations of systematic abuse of mentally ill prisoners without even slowing down.

    I take it you don’t have a problem with that. Do you think it’s immoral and illegal, if true?


  35. - work in progress - Friday, Dec 7, 18 @ 10:35 am:

    word I knew as soon as I read the comment after mine ,that would be the one replied to and not the paragraph of bad grammar I posted.

    Some people don’t understand phrasing when you are talking to people outside the walls.


  36. - Christine Herman - Friday, Dec 7, 18 @ 10:46 am:

    I’m the reporter at Illinois Public Media who wrote this story — and I just spoke with the court monitor about this new report. He wanted to make clear that prison staff are suffering trauma-related conditions from doing their job.

    That trauma “is not an excuse or justification for assaulting inmates. But he said the Department of Corrections needs to step up their efforts to provide counseling, group therapy and other assistance to employees who are themselves suffering, so that they can work through their trauma in a constructive manner instead of acting out against offenders.
    Without this, Stewart said he worries the culture of abuse he’s observed in his past 30 months as court monitor will continue to persist.”

    More here: https://will.illinois.edu/news/story/court-monitor-on-to-eliminate-culture-of-abuse-retaliation-in-illinois-pris


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