Twenty serious assaults were reported by May 29, an average of four a month, The Southern Illinoisan reported Sunday. The maximum-security prison in Chester in southwest Illinois had 30 in all of 2012, an average of 2.5 a month.
Previous news reports have also shown that three inmates have been killed this year at the prison.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents guards in the state’s prisons. Kevin Hirsch — president of the union’s Local 1175, which represents guards at Menard — says overcrowding and short staffing are at least to blame.
“We have 559 officers right now and 779.5 officers are required to complete tasks at Menard,” Hirsch said. “We’ve got an exhausted workforce. Morale is terrible and people are looking for a way out.”
Illinois’ prison population is just under 49,000, squeezed into prisons built to hold 32,100, The Associated Press reported in May.
Over the past few months, Gov. Pat Quinn has closed five correctional facilities, including the supermaximum-security prison in Tamms in southern Illinois, to save money.
But Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer says the department doesn’t believe it can read much into five months of results.
“We expect serious assaults in 2013 will be at or below the same number as 2012,” he said.
The Tamms closing, he noted, sent only a handful of prisoners to Menard. Most went to the state prison in Pontiac, he said.