The environment in Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) facilities is becoming increasingly more dangerous for both correctional officers and offenders and there seems to be little or no movement toward improving the situation, according to the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Corrections Lodge 263.
According to Lodge 263, during the Pritzker administration the Governor’s appointee Camile Lindsay, who gives direction to IDOC, has dangerously shifted focus to an anti-law enforcement, criminal-centered environment that placates social justice advocates at the expense of accountability for criminal behavior.
“Over the last several months working conditions for IDOC officers have become increasingly more stressful and dangerous,” said Lodge 263 President Scot Ward. “There is no valid plan in place to improve the situation, and frightening tragedies will undoubtedly occur unless something is done soon.”
Illegal, synthetic drugs are entering IDOC facilities at a more rapid pace through mail sent to the offenders. These drug-soaked cards, letters and fraudulent attorney-client correspondence has led to an increase in offenders being under the influence of drugs, carrying out violent acts on staff and other offenders. In addition, IDOC officers handling the mail have been unknowingly exposed to these substances, and as a result several officers have required a dose of Narcan or an emergency room visit.
“Many correctional agencies in the United States scan the offenders’ mail and then deliver those scans to the offenders, which keeps illegal drugs from entering the prison through the mail,” Ward said. “We have suggested this solution to top IDOC officials, but to date no action has been taken to stem this postal poison flow.”
The system that holds incarcerated offenders responsible for their actions has been watered down through policy and law changes, Ward said, and the result is that offenders no longer fear repercussions if they harm or kill a fellow offender or an IDOC officer. Restrictive housing for offenses has been reduced or eliminated, fewer cases of offender violence are being sent to county state’s attorneys for prosecution, and parolees are not being sent back to prison for violating the terms of their parole.
“Offenders are no longer concerned about being punished for their violent acts, and that means they literally have nothing to lose by assaulting any human being they encounter in prison,” Ward said. “And if they are not accountable on the inside, how can you ever hope to safely return them to society once their sentences are over?”
The mental health of IDOC officers is also a major concern. Ward said that these men and women work in some of the state’s most dangerous environments and they are under the constant threat of violence, intense scrutiny, lawsuits, investigations, drug exposure, and the daily fear of walking into an environment where anything can, and often does, happen.
“What makes matters worse is that these officers are forced to work excessive amounts of overtime to deal with critical staff shortages,” Ward said. “The mental health assistance systems in place do not offer the anonymity that officers need to avoid the stigma and negative scrutiny of both offenders and their fellow officers.”
“Mental health professionals with experience in helping law enforcement officers must be made available to assist IDOC officers when needed,” Ward said. “IDOC administrators must also be open to the idea of mental health time off, assignment changes, and small acts of appreciation for officers.”
The Fraternal Order of Police, founded in 1915, is the largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers in the United States. With a proud tradition of officers representing officers, the FOP is the most respected and most recognized police organization in the country. The Illinois FOP, chartered in 1963, is the second largest State Lodge, proudly representing more than 34,000 active duty and retired police officers – more than 10 percent of all FOP members nationwide. Visit www.ilfop.org for more information.