Inmates sue over crowded prison

2012-07-09T00:00:00Z Inmates sue over crowded prisonBy Kurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
July 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | Three Illinois prison inmates want a federal judge to order the state to improve living conditions at an overcrowded minimum security facility in southern Illinois.

The trio’s lawsuit was filed just days before Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law an early prisoner release program to alleviate some of the overcrowding at the Vienna Correctional Center.

Alan Mills, a lawyer with the Chicago-based Uptown People’s Law Center representing the inmates, said the program could relieve some pressure on the prison system -- built to handle about 33,000 inmates but houses more than 48,000.

“The early release program certainly could have an effect on this,” Mills said.

According to the lawsuit, many of the nearly 1,900 prisoners in Vienna are living in moldy, cockroach- and mouse-infested quarters with insufficient bathroom facilities in some of the buildings. Broken windows on some buildings have been simply boarded up, rather than replaced.

Educational and vocational programs, once a hallmark of the 50-year-old facility, have been significantly curtailed because of state budget problems, leading to tense conditions.

The overcrowding — Vienna was built to house about 990 inmates — has also limited the prison’s ability to provide inmates with adequate clothing, linens or blankets, the lawsuit notes.

Unlike many other inmate lawsuits, Mills said this case should move forward because the conditions at the prison are clearly not suitable.

“I don’t think anybody can say with a straight face that this is an acceptable way to run a prison system,” Mills said.

The lawsuit came as no surprise to those who have been monitoring the state prison system in recent years. The population of inmates skyrocketed after Gov. Pat Quinn canceled an early release program in 2009.

Corrections’ spokeswoman Kayce Ataiyero said the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits.

She also could not offer a timetable for when the new early release program will get under way or how many inmates might qualify for the program.

“The department is currently in the process of reviewing the new law and identifying policies and procedures that may need to be amended to implement the program,” Ataiyero said in an email Friday.

Mills said the prisoners are not seeking monetary damages. Rather, they just want the state to fix the buildings and facilities.

“We are not trying to make anybody rich,” Mills said.

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