AP Exclusive: Shakedowns of prison staff ordered

FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2008 file photo, corrections officers leave the Pontiac Correctional Center during a shift change in Pontiac, Ill. Illinois authorities took the unusual step of searching guards and other prison employees for contraband as they left at least seven facilities last week, sparking worker allegations that the checks may have been reprisals for complaints about overcrowding and understaffing and inside information leaked to the press, workers and union officials told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, 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.

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.


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