Inmates at the Shawnee Correctional Center and five other state prisons will be bunking in gyms in the coming weeks as part of the state’s ongoing struggle with overcrowding.
According to a letter Thursday from the Department of Corrections to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union the state will be setting up temporary bed space at the prisons in Vienna, Vandalia, Centralia, Danville, Canton and Hillsboro. Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano says the gymnasiums at the six prisons will be used temporarily for minimum security inmates.
A prison watchdog group says bed space is trumping security at the state’s correctional facilities. John Maki is with the John Howard Association. He says the six prisons targeted are among the state’s most crowded. Governor Pat Quinn has already shuttered the Tamms supermax prison and is moving to close the all-female Dwight Correctional Center. Maki says the loss of more than 1,000 beds at a time when the prison population continues to grow has raised concerns about a rise in violence.
AFSCME represents the state’s prison guards and other correctional staff. Union officials say there have been six attacks since Tamms closed in early January. The most recent include two guards and a prison chaplain who were attacked at Menard Correctional Center on February 5th, a death of a Menard inmate on January 31st, an attack on a corrections officer at Pontiac Correctional Center on January 28th, a Menard guard injured in an inmate attack on January 19th, four guards assaulted at the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet on January 10th and a guard assaulted on January 3rd at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center.
There are currently more than 49,000 inmates in space designed for 33,000.