August 22, 2016

Union calls for better internal security at Pontiac Correctional Center in the wake of assault on correctional employees

A troubling culture of inmate violence at Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac, Ill. culminated in an assault by multiple inmates on prison staff yesterday afternoon, August 21. Four correctional officers and two lieutenants were transported to the local hospital emergency room where they were treated for abrasions, contusions and possible concussions. None suffered life-threatening injuries and all six have now been released from the hospital.

“An inmate just began punching the lieutenant and knocked her to the ground,” said Joe Lewis, a correctional officer at Pontiac CC and president of Local 494 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents employees at the prison. “Then other inmates joined in the assault, injuring the other employees who had come to her assistance.”

Immediately following the incident, Lewis insisted that steps be taken to lock down the correctional facility to ensure the safety of both staff and inmates.

“It’s essential that the facility remain on lockdown until a state tactical team can be brought in to conduct a thorough search of cells and inmates to eliminate any contraband or weapons,” Lewis said.

Pontiac CC is a maximum security correctional facility that houses many of the state’s most dangerous inmates. When the state’s only “super-maximum” facility, Tamms Correctional Center, was closed in 2013, many of its inmates were transferred to Pontiac.

“Since the Tamms’ inmates have been integrated into our general population and allowed unrestricted freedom of movement, there has been a growing level of harassment and violence against correctional employees,” Lewis said.

“Officers have repeatedly had urine and feces thrown on them, been kicked, punched or head-butted, and even stabbed with shanks,” he added. Several of the inmates involved in the most recent incident are believed to have been transferred to Pontiac CC from Tamms CC.

The local union at Pontiac CC had repeatedly called attention to the growing safety issues at the facility—to no avail. Policies and procedures, designed and implemented to keep staff safe in a difficult and dangerous environment, have been ignored or put aside for new practices that, with a very short history to draw from, have proven ineffective and dangerous.

“There have to be consequences for this kind of behavior,” said AFSCME Council 31 Regional Director Eddie Caumiant. “IDOC is allowing these kinds of assaults without any kind of penalty. We believe it is critical that this incident be referred to the local state’s attorney and that criminal charges are filed.”

“Safety must be paramount for all involved,” Caumiant said. “That has to become a priority of the Department of Corrections.”

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