SPRINGFIELD — State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville), is voicing concern over increasing violence in the state’s Department of Corrections, noting the number of inmate-on-staff assaults are up more than 20 percent in the most recent fiscal year that ended June 30.
“530 officers and other frontline staff were assaulted during Fiscal Year 2013, that number is a sharp increase from the previous 428. By looking at the Department’s figures we also see that this is the highest number of hits since FY 2004,” Luechtefeld said. “Our primary concern is for the staff at these institutions and we will remain steadfast in our support of their safety and ensuring that our correctional centers do not revert back to a more turbulent and violent time.”
Using the Illinois Department of Correction’s (IDOC) own numbers, Luechtefeld found the number of inmate-on-staff assaults at the state’s correctional centers is at the highest rate of assaults in 10 years.
However, in a Thursday interview for another story, IDOC spokesman Tom Shaer emphatically stated that, “Violence is not on the increase in IDOC facilities. That is statistically false and practically incorrect.”
In response to the senator’s report, Shaer says there is a big difference between “assaults” and serious assaults, and that IDOC facilities are “safer than ever.”
“Serious assaults on staff in Illinois prisons were down in FY13 and serious assaults of all types were down 35 percent in the same period. As for the FY13 overall assault total being “…highest since FY04,” please keep in mind we now have 10.5 percent more inmates than 10 years ago, Shaer commented. “Most important, unlike FY04, IDOC now chooses to classify even very minor physical occurrences such as spitting, throwing food or an I.D. as an assault if they so much as touch a guard’s shoe. Also, when guards break up inmate fights, that could be an assault on staff. All of this inflates assault numbers.”
According to numbers provided by Luechtefeld’s office, inmate-on-staff assaults at Pontiac Correctional increased from 98 in FY 12 to 146 in FY 13. While that number remained unchanged with 36 staff assaulted at Menard, also a maximum-security facility, the facility saw three inmates murdered in FY 13, compared to zero in FY 12.
The agency’s other maximum-security facility Stateville saw a slight increase from 57 to 59, but Western Illinois’ numbers nearly tripled from 10 to 28. Illinois River jumped from two assaults in FY 12 to a dozen in FY 13 and Shawnee doubled from 12 to 24 inmate-on-staff assaults.
Graham Correctional and East Moline Correctional more than doubled their numbers, growing from four to 10, and three to six respectively, while Vienna nearly doubled from six to11 staff assaults.
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Luechtefeld and other Senate Republicans have been actively looking into management issues within the IDOC and even held a meeting with the agency’s Director S.A. Godinez and several former administrators who have since retired or moved onto other endeavors. The two sides did come to agreement on some staffing issues which included moving officers out of non-security positions and filling a backlog of clerical vacancies.
Issues of understaffing in key security positions still exist as a result of increased retirements, and an ever increasing shortage of key leaders at the sergeant and lieutenant positions at some southern Illinois facilities like Lawrence Correctional Center.
In March, Gov. Pat Quinn submitted for confirmation the reappointment of Godinez to the Senate Executive Committee, despite public, prison worker and lawmaker outcries against such a move. The committee, chaired by Chicago democrat Anthony Munoz, has not yet called the reappointment for a confirmation hearing. Luechtefeld is a member of the committee.
Other IDOC numbers secured by Luechtefeld further show that with the closures of Tamms and Dwight Correctional Centers, there were still 48,933 inmates on May 31, in a correctional system designed for roughly between 31,000 and 32,000 inmates.
“I will reiterate that I believe it was a mistake to shutter Tamms, it was a proven deterrent to staff assaults and now there are fewer options for our officers. The number of assaults at Pontiac has risen dramatically, ironically this is also where a majority of Tamms inmates were sent,” Luechtefeld said.
The assault numbers on are posted at: www.Luechtefeld.senategop.org.