AP Exclusive: Shakedowns of Illinois prison staff ordered

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
FILE - This Nov. 4, 2011 photo shows the Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Ill. The Associated Press has learned that the Illinois Department of Corrections has searched guards departing at least half a dozen prisons over the last week beginning Monday, July 23, 2012. Shakedowns occurred this week at prisons in Danville, East Moline, Pontiac and Taylorville; Menard, the Shawnee lockup in Vienna and Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, according to workers and the union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. (AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan, Paul Newton, File)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- An email from an Illinois Department of Corrections administrator ordered wardens at 10 prisons to conduct "mass shakedowns" of staff as they left work last week, at the same time workers were telling lawmakers about problems at the facilities.

The July 19 memo obtained by The Associated Press is from Ty Bates, the department's southern region deputy director. It was sent less than 20 minutes after a hearing started at the state Capitol where a dozen workers testified about prison overcrowding and understaffing.

Employees say conditions are deteriorating at a time when Gov. Pat Quinn plans to close several prisons, including the supermax prison in Tamms that houses gang leaders and others who have been violent in other lockups.

The department had no immediate comment Monday on the newly obtained email. The agency had previously denied any retaliation toward workers who speak out, though it didn't comment on whether the searches were a coordinated effort.

Department spokeswoman Stacey Solano said last week that staff searches are "routine security measure" to control illegal materials -- from magazines to weapons -- from getting into the hands of inmates.

The department has the right to search workers at any time. But several employees said they'd never gone through the pat downs at the end of the work day, and one said she couldn't remember how many years had passed since she had gone through any shakedown.

Bates' email to the 10 prison wardens and a halfway house superintendent asked that they "please ensure we conduct a mass shakedown on a shift of your choosing" by the end of last week.

It was dated July 19 at 11:18 a.m. The testimony by prison workers in Springfield began at 11 a.m.

Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the workers' union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, called the shakedowns "retaliatory harassment" for employees who were speaking out publicly.

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Contact John O'Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor.

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