Illinois prison crowding has led to more assaults

  • The 133-year-old Menard Correctional Center is designed to hold fewer than 3,100 prisoners, but it has 3,621.

      The 133-year-old Menard Correctional Center is designed to hold fewer than 3,100 prisoners, but it has 3,621. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2003

Associated Press
Updated 10/6/2011 3:10 PM

A southwestern Illinois prison with the state's worst inmate-to-staff ratio of all Illinois maximum-security lockups has had an "alarming" number of assaults perhaps blamed on the lockup's crowding, according to a Chicago-based prison watchdog group.

The John Howard Association, in a report issued Tuesday, said there have been 14 staff assaults since Jan. 1 at the Menard Correctional Center near Chester, southeast of St. Louis. One of those attacks, in a prison library, sent a correctional officer to a St. Louis hospital with facial fractures.


"Inadequate security not only jeopardizes the physical safety of inmates and staff, but it also undermines rehabilitation efforts and creates a psychologically damaging environment for everyone who lives and works behind the prison wall," the report noted, four months after the group's visit to Menard.

The 133-year-old prison, designed to hold less than 3,100 prisoners, now has 3,621, with more convicted killers -- more than 2,000 -- than any other Illinois prison. The state has 49,066 inmates in a system designed to handle 33,703.

Fanning tensions and violence inside Menard has been administrators placing the prison on lockdown half of the year, forcing inmates to spend all but two or three hours a day in their cells.

"Like other Illinois facilities, Menard suffers from systemic overcrowding, understaffing, and limited access to medical and psychiatric treatment, rehabilitative services, education, and jobs for inmates." the report noted.

The Illinois Department of Corrections disputed the report, saying the size of Menard's inmate population must be taken into consideration when comparing it with other prisons.

"You cannot compare maximum-security inmates with any other classification of inmate and you cannot compare our two other maximum-security facilities -- Stateville or Pontiac -- inmates because they do not have the same numbers," said Sharyn Elman, a spokeswoman for the department.