Union: Crowding to blame for Ill. prison assault - New York News

Union: Crowding to blame for Ill. prison assault

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By JOHN O'CONNOR

AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Overcrowding in Illinois' prisons -- including inmates sleeping in penitentiary gymnasiums -- contributed to the assault of a female prison guard at Danville Correctional Center, an employees' union said Friday.

The woman was attacked about 2 a.m. Thursday when an inmate lured her into a laundry area and assaulted her, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Another inmate stopped the attack when responding to the victim's screams, the union said.

The inmate was one of about 100 housed in the prison's gymnasium, Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer confirmed. But the inmate, serving time for aggravated domestic battery, had not caused any problems while housed at Danville, Shaer said.

Shaer also said the incident is under investigation and the prison is locked down.

The AFSCME statement pointed out that Danville, which according to state records has 1,930 inmates in space designed for 900, is one of several prisons where dozens of inmates are bunking in gyms since the women's maximum-security lockup in Dwight closed in March.

Despite a population of just under 49,000 in prisons originally built for 32,100, Gov. Pat Quinn in the past few months has closed five correctional facilities, including Dwight and the supermaximum-security prison in Tamms, to save money.

"The assault underscores how the Quinn administration's irresponsible actions have made Illinois prisons increasingly volatile and dangerous," said the statement from AFSCME, which represents most of the 11,000 Corrections Department employees.

Since January, three inmates at the Menard maximum-security prison have been murdered, a Menard chaplain was attacked and a Pontiac Correctional Center guard was brutally attacked to the point of requiring facial reconstructive surgery.

AFSCME contends Danville has 185 officers -- down from a high of 235 in the past -- and the guard who was attacked was the only one working in a housing unit with 448 inmates. Shaer said Danville has 195 officers.

Shaer denied the AFSCME claim.

"The corrections officer who was assaulted was absolutely not the only officer with the inmates at the time," he said. "IDOC procedure calls for three: two officers and a control officer. That proven effective level of staffing was in place during the shift."

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