AFSCME Council 31 is urging management at the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to do more to fight the growing problem of inmate assaults on prison and youth center staff.
Assaults on staff in state correctional facilities have increased by 51 percent in the last two years. In a recent news conference, Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch attributed the rise in violent outbreaks to policy and operational changes driven by costs. She was joined by corrections and juvenile justice employees who have been victims of or witnesses to assaults.
Lynch said changes DOC has made to its inmate-classification system may be a contributing factor. The department recently began reclassifying violent offenders so they are transferred from maximum-security prisons to medium- and minimum-security facilities – decisions that that appear to be budget-driven rather than based on consultation and input from front-line staff, she said.
“Is it because ... prisons with lower security levels have lower staffing levels and cost less to operate?” Lynch asked. “Far too little attention is paid to the human cost of increasing violence against staff.”
‘Management Has Got to Care’
Cody Dornes, a correctional officer (CO) and president of AFSCME Local 46, told of a female CO at East Moline Correctional Center who was left alone with more than 100 inmates and faulty radio equipment and was attacked from behind and beaten in the head.
Dornes said that to make prisons safe, “we need more staff … we need radios that work, we need DOC to stop reclassifying dangerous inmates and assigning them to less-secure facilities. And we need appropriate treatment and placement of mentally ill inmates, including holding them accountable for their actions.”
Ultimately, Lynch said, “Management has got to care. They have to care about employee safety.”
Illinois is not alone in seeing an increase in overall prison violence. The problem is growing across much of the Midwest and the nation.
In Nebraska, for instance, inmate assaults on COs spiked at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution this year, with at least 11 assaults resulting in serious injuries to COs in a two-month period, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
In Iowa, AFSCME Council 61 is demanding quick action “before someone gets killed” after two COs were attacked by inmates within a week at the Iowa State Penitentiary.
AFSCME has long been an advocate for stronger safety measures and adequate staffing levels in prisons.