Even as reports are showing the maximum security prison in Chester is overcrowded and understaffed, the facility will be receiving almost 80 additional inmates Friday, this according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Menard is a maximum security facility but the 72 inmates Department of Corrections Spokesman Tom Shaer confirms it is expected to receive today are being transferred from Pinckneyville and Lawrence, both of which are medium security facilities. According to Shaer, “Any level of offender may be placed in a maximum security facility.”
The 2013 report from prison watchdog group the John Howard Association says Menard suffers from chronic under staffing and that little more than 10 years ago the facility had at least 300 more staff and 200 fewer inmates. It currently houses more inmates than any other facility in Illinois.
Shaer says he disagrees with the John Howard report, commenting, “That’s their opinion and their most recent report on Vandalia Correctional Center was filled with inaccuracies, false statements, misrepresentations and also valuable, important factual information.” But he added he has great respect for JHA and its executive director John Maki.
The actual capacity of Menard is a difficult number to track. According to the February JHA report, the capacity was 3,666; according to the IDOC website, the capacity is 3,739; and according to Shaer, the number is 3,853. However, Shaer says the actual number of inmates, including the 79 new inmates added Friday, is 3,678.
According to Hirsch, Menard has been forced to take beds in segregation and turn them into 104 general population beds, just to handle the additional inmates.
Hirsch says the conditions and IDOC policies are compromising safety of both staff and inmates. Since the beginning of the year, the facility has reported more than 20 serious assaults, up from 2012, which reported only 30 for the entire year. 2013 has also had three confirmed homicides at the facility — 2012 reported no homicides — all from its segregation unit, which like the rest of the facility has been forced into double bunking each cell.
Hirsch says Menard is now housing 50 former Tamms inmates and that because of the overcrowding, gang leaders are no longer segregated from the general population, allowing for lines of communication to be reestablished. He says dozens of “shanks” or homemade weapons have been found in the facility in the last week or so. But Shaer says only 12 have been found in the last two weeks.
Hirsch questions Gov. Pat Quinn’s claims that Illinois had prisons that were half-full, saying inmates wouldn’t be living in gymnasiums if that were the case and other prisons wouldn’t be bursting at the seams with population.
Coincidentally, Shaer also confirms 72 inmates being housed in the gymnasium of Graham Correctional Center are expected to be transferred out today, 40 to Pinckneyville and 36 to Lawrence, the same numbers the facilities sending inmates to Menard. But Shaer says none of the inmates from Graham were sent to Menard and that inmates are no longer being housed in the gym at Graham. According to Shaer, only 130 inmates are currently being housed in IDOC gymnasiums at this time.