Saturday, August 4, 2012
Experts Say Spin Blurs Prison Closing Issues
A volley of news releases and leaked memos since mid-July stemming from Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close two state prisons has surprised experts, who said this week the dust up distracts from major flaws in the state’s prison system, including overcrowding, understaffing and cuts to programs for inmates.
Recent inmate assaults on both guards and fellow inmates — brought to light by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing prison employees — are tied to the impending closures because prisons already are overcrowded, the union contends. At a July 19 rally in Springfield, prison employees described a spike in inmates punching, spitting on and biting guards, saying the incidents worsened in recent years because of overcrowding. And a July 24 report documented what a union representative described as “a riot,” fueled by understaffing and overcrowding, at a minimum-security prison in East Moline during a power outage.
“There is increased tension, so there’s an increase in prisoner-on-prisoner fights, but that’s because it’s hot,” said Alan Mills, legal director of the Chicago-based Uptown People’s Law Center, a nonprofit legal center that handles cases on behalf of inmates. Mills has monitored the state prison system for more than 20 years, and he questions why the assaults suddenly are being publicized, when they are the norm, for many reasons, in prisons. "Anytime there’s an incident in any prison … the union puts out a press release,” he said. “Things are terrible, but it has nothing to do with prison closures.”
Laurie Jo Reynolds, who has taught at Columbia College in Chicago and is the organizer of Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots campaign to educate people about the effects of long-term prison isolation, said the incidents are being used to bolster the argument that no prisons should close. “They are creating an environment of scare tactics and fear mongering,” she said.
The John Howard Association of Illinois advocates for humane conditions in the state’s prisons. Executive director John Maki said “What we’re seeing here is decades of asking the system to do more than it can possibly do with the amount of resources we’ve given it,” Maki said. “Everyone is feeling that — from the administration to the staff to the inmates. The answer isn’t to have more staff. The answer is to do what other states have done, which is to reduce the prison population.”
You can read Jayette's full report at: http://watchdog.org/46312/il-prison-experts-say-pr-battle-distracting-from-real-flaws-in-corrections-system/