Prison Group Says Conditions "Tense" at Menard

Apr 24, 2013

An Illinois prison watchdog group says conditions are tense at Menard Correctional Center, in southern Illinois.

Menard Correctional Center
Credit John Howard Association

For the third time this year, Randolph County officials have charged an inmate with the murder of a cell mate.  The prison has more than 3,600 men -- well over the capacity for which it was designed. And it's a rough crowd, with more than half the inmates in for murder. John Maki, director of the prison-monitoring John Howard Association, says that combination is at the heart of Menard's long list of problems: This is why everything matters in prisons. Why food matters in prisons. Why medical care matters in prisons. Why staffing levels -- because they are such tense and course of places, that when something goes wrong, it can spark really bad things."

The association visited the prison and says older and other "vulnerable" inmates report being housed with aggressive, younger convicts. There are few educational or job programs, and one inmate says he waited months to get treatment for a broken tooth.

Prison officials says they carefully review cell assignments and investigate complaints of abuse. But Maki says there's only so much prison administrators can do -- he says it's up to legislators and the governor to deal with the overcrowding.

The report is available here.