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Report details big problems at Illinois prison for women; state says it's safe

UPDATED at 9:23 a.m. on Dec. 16, 2014

A new report out Monday shows major problems at Logan Correctional Center, a prison for women in central Illinois. Those problems include housing units at Logan Prison with a ratio of 156 inmates for one officer.

Earlier this year, two suicides took place within 30 days there. And women in segregation told researchers the noise was so loud, they couldn’t get anyone’s attention for medical treatment.

John Maki with the John Howard Association, which issued the report, said Logan’s problems were exacerbated when the state closed other centers for women and the correctional center in Dwight.

“All we ended up doing was consolidating more people into less space and that has made for very, very poor conditions,” said Maki.“It was a facility that was not staffed, that was not prepared to meet the needs, you know, of female inmates.”

At the time of the prison closures, the Illinois Department of Corrections estimated the state was saving about $7 million a month.

But the prison is safe for inmates, according to Tom Shaer, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).

“To say that closing Dwight Correctional Center was ill-conceived based on what’s happening at Logan, we believe is not at all the case,” Shaer said. “In fact, the safety and security at Logan has been outstanding.”

Shaer said there’s been one serious assault on staff in the previous two years, which occurred when that employee was breaking up a fight among inmates. In a written statement, he also noted, “Medical personnel walk every cell wing to check needs daily and officers are present at all times. It is virtually impossible to be unheard, especially for medical attention.”

Shaer also said the investigations into the two suicides found they did not occur because of a lack of resources. He said neither inmate had shown evidence of intending to commit suicide - and neither was on suicide watch.

Logan Correctional Center is also where the majority of inmates with mental health issues are sent. It’s in the process of adding 120 beds for inmates with mental health needs, due to litigation over IDOC’s mental health services. That project is expected to cost about $8 million.

“It’s where we send some of the most mentally ill people in our state and it’s simply not staffed for that. There’s no real resources for that, which is why it’s being sued. Which is why there’s a consent decree being worked out, which will cost the state millions and millions of dollars to build that capacity,” Maki said.

Maki is serving on a small committee to advise Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner about the state’s public safety needs.

“We’re not trying to paint a rosy picture, but we don’t believe that this (report) at all shows that the closing of Dwight was ill-conceived. And it saved the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars while not compromising safety and security at Logan,” IDOC spokesman Shaer said.

This story was updated to reflect IDOC’s response to some claims in the John Howard Association report.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.


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