Former inmates not surprised Quinn keeping reporters out of prisons

August 9, 2012

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(WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer)
Chris Clingingsmith recently finished serving 7 years in prison for drunk driving.

Inmates recently released from prisons in Illinois say they're not surprised that Gov. Pat Quinn won't let reporters in to see conditions.

Chris Clingingsmith just completed seven years behind bars for driving drunk. He lost his wife, his house, his cars and his motorbike, but he’s glad he got caught when he did because he would have been in a much worse situation than he’s in now if he had stayed on the streets and hurt someone.

He says prison isn't supposed to be fun, but the Vandalia prison doesn’t meet even basic standards. He says he wouldn't even house a dog in the kind of conditions men are enduring in basements at the minimum security institution.

WBEZ has been asking to visit the prison for several months, but Gov. Pat Quinn has said no.

“They don't want you to see firsthand what we're telling you,” says Clingingsmith. “I have no reason to lie.  I'm not in there anymore so they can't do anything to me.  If you walked in there, I'm not going to exaggerate, you would probably just go wow, they actually house people in these areas.  You would be amazed.  You would think that's above and beyond punishment.”

Clingingsmith says a lot of the men housed at Vandalia are getting very mad. Clingingsmith says the lawmakers who oversee the prisons need to get to Vandalia so they know what’s going on.

Quinn is currently working on closing some prisons, but the union representing workers opposes those closures, saying overcrowding will get worse.

Illinois spends more than a billion dollars a year on prisons.