Degradation, Neglect And Roaches: Inside Illinois’ Largest Women’s Prison

Logan Correctional Center
Rain falls on the Logan Correctional Center administration building Nov. 18, 2016, in Lincoln, Ill. Seth Perlman / Associated Press
Logan Correctional Center
Rain falls on the Logan Correctional Center administration building Nov. 18, 2016, in Lincoln, Ill. Seth Perlman / Associated Press

Degradation, Neglect And Roaches: Inside Illinois’ Largest Women’s Prison

The staff and inmates at Illinois’ largest women’s prison agree the facility is “falling apart,” “neglected” and “unsanitary.”

The deteriorating physical condition is one of the key findings of a new report from the independent prison watchdog John Howard Association on the Logan Correctional Center in central Illinois.

The newly released monitoring report notes that the Illinois Department of Corrections has eased overcrowding at Logan, which houses the vast majority of the state’s female prisoners, but also warns “there is still much to be improved.” Those needed improvements include more mental health practitioners, a more professional and respectful workforce and the overdue physical repairs.

A survey of Logan inmates found that only 3% of the women in the prison believe that “when something is broken it is fixed in a timely manner.”

The inmates and state employees reported sewage backups, standing water in bathrooms, leaking holes in ceilings, mold, extreme heat and pest infestations so severe that roaches and rodents sometimes crawl on women while they sleep.

The buildings are in such disrepair that staff once, according to the report, took it upon themselves to try and overcome the lack of budget for physical repairs by holding a “paint drive.”

“Some staff have donated items to attempt to improve the environment in the absence of state funding,” the report reads.

Beyond maintenance problems, the John Howard Association also found serious issues between staff and inmates. In staff surveys, workers at Logan worried that a reluctance to use prisoner segregation was making the prison less safe.

“Not all inmates are bad all the time but when they are, we need to do what’s necessary to keep people safe,” one staff survey respondent said, according to the report.

Conversely, inmates told the prison watchdog that staff guards are “unprofessional” and “degrading” to the women being held at Logan.

Besides staff conduct, the John Howard report also noted a problem with staffing shortages.

“Staff shortage causes stress on inmates and staff. Housing units with over 150 inmates should have more than one person,” one worker said, according to the report.

In particular, the report highlights a lack of mental health professionals. Citing court filings, the John Howard Association reports that more than 40% of the 77 mental health staff positions at Logan were vacant as of August of this year. The unfilled positions included “critical vacancies” such as a mental health unit director and seven psychiatrists.

Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lindsey Hess did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Illinois prison officials were given the opportunity to respond to the report before it came out. In their comments to the John Howard Association, IDOC said mental health staffing has increased at Logan since August.

State officials also reported to John Howard that they are working on addressing physical plant issues, including installing a new roof and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and that they’re adding cameras and staff to address safety issues.

Logan prison was turned into a women’s prison in 2013, and in the new report, a John Howard volunteer described talking to a woman who had been imprisoned at Logan since that transition. The inmate broke into tears while describing conditions, according to the report. She said she has “seen some improvements” and will “soon go home herself.” But she “remained deeply concerned for those who will remain at Logan.”

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.