In response to rising levels of violence and aggression against front-line staff at Illinois Department of Corrections facilities across the state, Senators, Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon), Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville) and Sam McCann (R-Carlinville) met this week with IDOC Director S.A. “Tony” Godinez and his top management team to discuss problems in the corrections system.
“We had a very direct discussion with Director Godinez. What we are looking for is a comprehensive plan to stabilize the situation in our prisons. Given the extent of overcrowding, due to closures like Tamms, we must make sure that our correctional officers (C.O.) are not put in dangerous positions,” commented McCarter.”Inmate attacks on our CO’s are a serious concern. I am obligated to make sure they and other Correctional employees are safe. Inmate on inmate assaults have also increased and this adds to the challenges facing our CO’s to keep order in the prisons.”
But feedback from the lawmakers attending the meeting did not indicate that any such stabilization plan is in place, or is even being developed. There does, however, appear to be a difference of opinion between the lawmakers and DOC administration on the state of the agency.
“I believe there are fundamental differences between our concerns and the leadership team of DOC,” said Luechtefeld. “A group of senators and I are working together to pick up the efforts that were started by retired State Senator John O. Jones because we fear for the safety of our dedicated correctional officers, staff, inmates and the entire correctional system.”
McCarter says they spoke about some of the missed opportunities to help inmates overcome addiction and engage in a disciplined lifestyle of work, which he says are necessary outcomes that provide a way for offenders to change their life and not return to prison.
He says the group also addressed the financial challenges facing the correctional system, specifically the issue of costly overtime, which McCarter cites at about $45 million annually.
Both downstate senators noted Godinez did note commitments to hire people for secretarial positions, which will allow DOC to move CO’s back into security.
The lawmakers also requested and were promised weekly reports on efforts to balance staffing, eliminate overtime and save money in the department.
“The director stood firm in his defense of the closure of Tamms Correctional Center, segregation policies, and some staffing issues. The department did agree with us in our conclusion to get more clerical staff hired, to ensure that security staff are not bogged down with paperwork and are allowed to concentrate on security duties,” Luechtefeld remarked. “We are committed to working to seek solutions that will protect the front-line workers and make the department more responsive to our state’s 21st century public safety.”
McCarter agreed, saying, “This is not where the discussion with Corrections ends. My colleagues and I will remain vigilant and hold the Director and his management team accountable.”