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Union Says Attacks On Prison Guards Are Up

Roberta Lynch
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch, at podium, speaks to reporters on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Springfield.

The labor union representing Illinois prison workers says assaults are way up. AFSCME is asking the state to do more to keep its members safe.

Cory Knop works at Lawrence Correctional Center, where he says there have been several recent assaults.

He says the union recently complained that just one security officer was assigned to a healthcare unit with up to 30 inmates. The worry was that an officer under attack would not be able to open the security door to let in backup.

Knop says that very scenario played out, and only then did management assign a second officer.

“We’re tired of waiting for our members to be hurt before they do something about it,” Knop says.

John Baldwin, acting director of the Department of Corrections, acknowledges assaults on staff have gone up. But he also says the majority of the increase involves inmates throwing fluids, not physical violence.

“We take staff safety very seriously," Baldwin says.

Baldwin says the department’s staffing level has grown by 11 percent over the past three fiscal years.

He also says some increase in assaults is expected as Illinois changes the way it deals with inmates who have mental illness, but that based on the experience in other states, the trend will improve over time. The state has agreed to improve treatment of inmates with mental health disorders in order to settle a lawsuit.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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