AFSCME seeks injunction preventing inmate transfers in overcrowded prison system
Arguing that Governor Pat Quinn’s push to close several state prisons is worsening dangerous overcrowding and that inappropriate inmate transfers pose a safety risk to prison workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 filed suit today in Alexander County in far Southern Illinois.
The union is seeking an injunction to halt the threatened closure of prisons at Dwight and Tamms, adult transition centers in Carbondale, Chicago and Decatur, and youth centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. Governor Quinn is pushing to close the facilities despite opposition from prison employees, a legislative oversight commission and lawmakers who provided adequate funding to keep them open. The closure push comes even as the adult correctional system is overflowing with more than 48,000 inmates in facilities built for just 33,000.
The lawsuit details grievances filed by the union over the threat to employee safety posed by rushed transfer of inmates to other prisons ill-equipped to cope. While the state has refused to resolve the grievances, it is rushing to transfer inmates and hasten closing facilities.
“Inmates are being sent to prisons that are too crowded, too short of staff or lacking appropriate security features to safely incarcerate them,” AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said. “We’re asking the court for an injunction to prevent the state from moving forward with any closure until the related grievances have been resolved.”
“Plaintiff brings this lawsuit to protect its members that are at risk of injury and death due to the decisions of the Governor of the State, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice to close multiple correctional facilities and to absorb the inmates at those facilities into an already overcrowded and overburdened correctional system,” the filing explains. “[A]lmost 5,000 inmates and youth will be transferred due to these closings. Many of the inmates that will be moved are those who have been intentionally segregated in the correctional system because of the danger they pose to guards and to other inmates. … The insertion of these inmates into the overcrowded prisons of the State will inevitably foment unrest that will put employees, other inmates, and the general community at risk.”
Tamms Correctional Center is located in Alexander County. It is the state’s only C-max (closed-maximum-security) prison for inmates who have committed or instigated violent attacks on employees or fellow offenders while incarcerated. Since the closure of Tamms was announced, employees throughout the prison system have documented rising tensions, increased gang activity, a higher incidence of weapons inside the facilities and more assaults on staff.
The suit notes that, “maximum security inmates at Tamms will be transferred to the maximum security prison in Pontiac, Illinois, where they will be single-celled. This means that many prisoners at Pontiac will now be double-celled in order to make space. This domino effect will make Pontiac a much more dangerous place to work”.
The large-scale reclassification and transfer of inmates precipitated by the closures poses a threat to prison employees and the public in nearly every Illinois region. If Dwight is closed, its inmates will go to Logan, with Logan inmates going to Lincoln and Lincoln inmates distributed statewide. Tamms transfers to Pontiac are already causing secondary transfers to Stateville, Menard and elsewhere. Joliet’s maximum-security transfers will go primarily to medium-security St. Charles and Kewanee. Nearly all these prisons are already at or well above safe capacity.
The union’s filing comes amid intense media attention to volatility and violence in state prisons, employee criticism of the closures and the Quinn Administration’s retaliatory efforts to silence rank-and-file whistleblowers.
“The Quinn Administration is failing its duty to ensure a safe workplace for its employees. Instead, it is sending men and women to work each day in prisons that the state’s own actions are making more dangerous,” AFSCME director Bayer said. “We’re asking the court to put a stop to these actions until our members are assured that when they pass through those prison gates, they will be as safe as possible.”