• Gym housing of inmates creates additional safety concerns

    by  • March 2, 2013 • News

    As hundreds of additional inmates are moved into the gymnasiums of six Department of Corrections facilities across Illinois, sacrifices must be made to accommodate the extra population.vandalia pic_2004

    According to IDOC Spokeswoman Stacey Solano, as Graham Correctional Center prepares for dorm housing in its gymnasium, weight equipment from the gym has been moved into a private staff weight room for “security reasons.”

    “Most of the equipment will be moved to the yard soon, which will add to the equipment already out there for offender use,” says Solano. “However, in the meantime, staff are able to use the equipment at their leisure.”

    She says employees and inmates have previously had access to weight equipment in the gym and that recently employees had asked for a room off the gym to be designated as a private staff weight room.

    The warden, Billie J. Michael, granted permission for the private weight room and Solano says staff has raised money for equipment they will soon receive solely for employee use. It is that room that now houses the equipment previously housed in the gym.

    According to Illinois statute, equipment used for inmate recreation, such as the workout equipment in the Graham gymnasium, is purchased with money from the Inmate Benefit Fund.

    Inappropriate use of funds?

    IDOC Administrative Directive says money from the Inmate Benefit Fund, which is raised through profits from the inmate commissary, may be used for “Expenditures for which inmate or youth will have a similar opportunity to benefit from the expenditure,” which would indicate the move of the equipment at Graham would be a violation of IDOC’s own directive.

    In 2006, an audit of Pinckneyville Correctional Center found the center did not use the Inmate Benefit Fund in accordance with state statute, in that it loaned money from the fund to the Employee Commissary Fund.

    The audit states “The Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/3-4-3(c)) requires 40 percent of the profits on sales from commissary stores to be expended for the benefit of committed persons. However, a loan to the Employee commissary fund does not benefit committed persons.”

    It would seem the housing of equipment purchased with money from the Inmate Benefit Fund in a room exclusively used by prison staff would similarly have no benefit to the inmates.

    But the concern goes beyond improper use of Inmate Benefit Funds. According to John Maki, executive director of prison watchdog the John Howard Association, such a move can only increase existing tensions between correctional staff and inmates.

    “This shows the perils of significant overcrowding,” says Maki. “While this is surely not intentional, it may put staff at further risk.”

    He says resentment by inmates over the loss of the equipment and the employees benefitting from that loss will likely create an even more hostile environment.

    Maki called upon Gov. Pat Quinn to reconsider his decision to close Dwight Correctional Center, a move that has resulted in not only the relocation of hundreds of inmates into prison gymnasiums, but also in the loss of approximately 1,000 beds in a system already grossly overcrowded.

    He says the system currently houses more than 49,000 inmates, but is built to only house approximately 33,000 inmates — before the loss of more than 1,000 beds with the closure of both Dwight and Tamms correctional centers.

    Additional safety concerns arise

    sex-offenders1While interviewing Maki, he asked if we had been able to confirm the Sex Offender Program at Graham had been discontinued.

    We inquired with Solano if that were indeed true, and while she says the program will continue, two separate sources from within the facility say it has been halted, with Assistant Warden of Programs Casandra Davis advising staff on February 25 that the program was being eliminated after 25-years of existence.

    The program was a special treatment group program with 50 participating inmates housed together. It was taught and monitored by a psychologist.

    The rumored closing of the program was reportedly due to not enough mental health professionals to continue the program with a huge influx of mental health problematic inmates. According to IDOC numbers, nearly 16-percent of its inmate population has been convicted of a sex offense.

    Maki voiced concern over the possibility of the program ending, noting most sex offenders will ultimately be released back into the community, but now without treatment and life skills necessary to not re-offend.

    He says the current state of Illinois corrections is that of a human warehouse, with few opportunities for rehabilitation.

    “The state needs to commit to significant prison reform,” commented Maki, adding that other punitive options need to be sought outside of prison sentences. “There are too many people being housed in our prisons.”