Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Department of Corrections seeks more funds for current fiscal year

By Meredith Colias 

After projected savings from prison closures fell short, the Illinois Department of Corrections is asking for more funding for the current fiscal year.

The department is seeking $41.8 million in supplemental appropriations to cover its costs for FY 13, which ends June 30. According to Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget office, the department had to spend $30 million it had not included in its budget to keep the Dwight and Tamms Correctional Centers open through a legal fight with public employee unions. Agency officials estimate that running the two prisons cost the state about $62 million per year and that the department did not save the full amount projected from prison closures because court challenges delayed the closings for several months. Both prisons are now closed.

The department also prematurely estimated it could save $19.2 million by stopping guards from collecting 15 minutes of overtime while they stood through the morning roll call. Department officials said during a budget hearing today that they were unable to realize those savings, and they now need to reconcile how to cover that cost.

Other problems, such as overcrowding, continue to plague the prison system. Inmates at minimum-security prisons are being housed in bunks in prison gymnasiums. A department spokeswoman said the agency is doing the best it can under difficult circumstances. “It’s a temporary dorm setting. Obviously, we have no control over the inmates that we receive into the system,” said Stacy Solano.

Anders Lindall, spokesmen for Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, said the prison closures only added to the problem, with 49,000 inmates in prisons built for 32,000. “I don’t think from the beginning it was credible to claim that closures would save money,” he said. “They didn’t turn those thousands of inmates loose. They transferred them to other facilities, and they had to transfer staff [and still pay] to safely incarcerate them,” he said.

Three inmates have been murdered in the Menard Correctional Facility this year. A report released today from the prison watchdog group the John Howard Association says that inmates complained about the dangers of putting multiple prisoners in one cell. “Several older inmates reported that they had trouble with younger and aggressive cellmates. Additionally, housing inmates with long-term sentences alongside inmates with short-term sentences can be problematic. This was the situation of the inmate who was allegedly murdered by his cellmate in January 2013,” said the report. The authors of the report noted some positive developments at Menard since the association’s 2011 monitoring visit. “Menard has made several improvements, including reducing its segregation population, notably of inmates suffering from mental illnesses; attempting to isolate and reduce lock downs by housing inmates by aggression levels; and working with staff to strengthen communication and accountability.”

“We take every assault as seriously, no matter to what degree, extremely seriously,” Solano said. The department has reviewed security procedures and is aiding prosecution efforts, she said. “That sends a message to staff and inmates that we are not going to stand for this.”

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