Earlier this month a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections stated in an email response that the Sex Offender Treatment Program at Graham Correctional Center had not been discontinued,and assured us the program would continue.
But Chad Zumwalt, president for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local 2856 at Graham, confirmed Thursday night that the program was indeed dismantled the last week in February.
The program was a special treatment group with 50 participating inmates housed together. It was taught and monitored by a psychologist.
Zumwalt says the participants in the group now simply spend their days like the rest of the prison population, rather than in counseling groups.
State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Staunton) has also confirmed that Spokeswoman Stacey Solano’s claims were not true, saying he is also aware the program has been halted.
“I met with Chad Zumwalt last week,” commented Manar, noting that even as a senator, he is given little information from IDOC regarding correctional facilities, including Graham CC, which is in his legislative district.
He says he is very concerned with the current situation within the Department of Corrections, noting he has been meeting with IDOC employees and has posed to them some very basic questions about what is happening behind the walls of the state prisons.
John Maki, executive director for the prison watchdog group the John Howard Association voiced concern over the ending of the Sex Offender Treatment Program, noting most sex offenders will ultimately be released back into the community, only now without the treatment and skills necessary to not re-offend.
Maki said the current state of Illinois corrections is that of a human warehouse, with few opportunities for rehabilitation of inmates before they are released back into society.
The closing of the program was reportedly due to not enough mental health professionals with a huge influx of mental health problematic inmates being moved into the facility.
Recently close to 100 additional inmates were moved into Graham, with existing inmates who have short terms left on their sentences moved into “dorm-style” housing in the facilities gymnasium.
Gym housed inmates receiving extra food portions
As a food services supervisor at the Hillsboro prison, Zumwalt says one way IDOC is trying to keep the inmates in the gym happy is by increasing their food portions beyond what the other inmates are receiving.
“We received a memo telling us the inmates in the gym are to get an additional half-portion serving of food,” he said, explaining that part of the reasoning is that the inmates living in the gym no longer have access to “hot pots” like other inmates and cannot prepare food purchased from commissary.
According to Zumwalt, the inmates housed in the gym lost all electronics they may have owned while housed in a cell, including the “hot pots.”
The gym, he notes, is not equipped with smoke detectors, something made clear from an incident last week when an inmate got water in an electrical box and it began to smoke. Without smoke detectors the hazard was not immediately noticed.
Manar says he is very concerned about the safety of both inmates and staff within the agency, adding that the gymnasiums are not built to house prisoners.
Aside from the fire code issue of not having smoke detectors in the gym, Zumwalt also noted a plumbing code issue, as code calls for only having 32 people per the plumbing capacity, but the facility now has approximately 100.
He says the prison has opened the staff locker room for showers, but because of the locker room’s location, the gym inmates have to go through the receiving and classification unit to get there.
With an operational capacity of 2,010 inmates, Graham is running about 100 people over capacity, says Zumwalt, the approximate number of inmates being housed in the gymnasium. He says to accommodate the additional inmates, the facility has added a “runners yard,” in which inmates are taken outside for recreation at 5:30 in the morning, requiring guards to maintain watch in the dark.
Manar says it is only “logical” at this time to believe the increase in violent incidents are being caused by what is currently happening within corrections, such as the closure of some facilities and the historic number of inmates being held in each facility.