The Illinois Department of Corrections has told the union for prison workers that they plan to start housing men in the gymnasiums at six already overcrowded prisons.
The move comes as Gov. Pat Quinn plans to close Dwight Correctional Facility, requiring inmates to be shuffled around the prison system.
But the system is already overcrowded. There are 49,000 people being housed in facilities built for 33,000.
Anders Lindall is with the union representing prison workers. The union opposes closing Dwight and opposes housing inmates in gyms.
“It’s not only unsafe in and of itself but it heightens tensions in the prisons that due to the crowding are already volatile,” Lindall said.
“Right now what we’re doing is putting the cart way before the horse,” said John Maki, the executive director of The John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group in Illinois.
Maki says in general his group favors closing prisons because in the past prisons have been overused to house those with mental illness and drug addiction. But Maki says you can’t simply squeeze more people into less space.
“Without a plan to safely and significantly reduce the prison population, I don’t see how this can be a temporary fix. I think this will become the new status quo, which is dangerous for inmates but also for staff,” Maki said.
In a written statement the Department of Corrections insists that housing men in gyms will be a temporary situation, though they don’t outline any plan to relieve the already historic overcrowding that will be made worse by the prison closure.
For the last eight months WBEZ has had a standing request to interview Gov.Quinn about his prison policy. He has refused.