Mt. Vernon Register-News

July 23, 2013

Big Muddy report prompts recommendations


---- — INA — A report on Big Muddy River Correctional Center shows mental health is inadequate, health care is backlogged.

The John Howard Association, founded to provide critical citizen oversight of the state’s correctional facilities, visits facilities each year, interviewing staff and inmates to “issue fact-based reports to the public and policy makers aimed at forging policies that ensure public safety, create opportunities for rehabilitation and make the most prudent use of tax dollars.”

A team from the association visited Big Muddy on Nov. 14, 2011 and more recently on March 8.

“...administrators report their greatest challenge is to continue to provide needed services while financial issues for the department to make budgetary decisions that adversely affect programs,” the report states. “Many exceptional, dedicated staff members at Big Muddy run programming while facing tremendous adversity and a chronic lack of vital resources.”

The facility has a population of 1,890, while it was designed to house 952 inmates when it was opened in 1993. The average age of inmates is 28 years, with the annual cost per inmate to house at $16,250 as reported in 2011. Five percent are in the prison for murder; 36 percent for Class X felonies, 17 percent for Class 1 felonies, 19 percent for Class 2 felonies, 8 percent for Class 3 felonies, 6 percent for Class 4 felonies; and 9 percent are unclassified felonies. Of those incarcerated at BMRCC, 34 percent were convicted in Cook County.

The facility has a sex offender population and has been designated within the IDOC to house inmates who are civilly committed as sexually dangerous persons.

“Since 2010, sex offenders have composed more than half of Big Muddy’s total population,” the report states. “Of these inmates, 173 are designated sexually dangerous persons who are civilly committed to IDOC custody until determined to be ‘recovered.’ ... SDPs are rarely released. Hence, the difficulties of SDP inmates and their aging population are largely analogous to those of other inmates who are older, sicker and staying in prison longer than ever before.”

The report states the mental health treatment at BMRCC is considered “inadequate.”

“Mental health treatment at Big Muddy is inadequate, as the sex offender treatment programs are chronically understaffed and there is a backlog for Telepsych treatment. ... Relatively few criminally convicted sex offenders receive treatment while incarcerated, though arguably such treatment would result in greater public safety benefits than treatment for civilly committed inmates who are less likely to be released.”

The report states that in March, there were 974 sex offender inmates at BMRCC, with 173 SDPs housed in a unit with a capacity to house 224; and 94 inmates participating in the voluntary sex offender program, with four on a waiting list.

“Administrators reported that they have struggled to keep the sex offender treatment program staffed,” the report states. “Treatment staff stated that by comparison, Rushville Treatment and Detention Center, which is operated by the Illinois Department of Human Services and houses sexually violent persons, has 30 clinical care staff compared to three at Big Muddy.”

The civilly committed SDPs are kept separate from the voluntary sex offender program, but share staff and programming.

“Inmates reported that the program is understaffed with only one staff member for 94 active participants, and the majority of the groups are peer-facilitated. Inmates reported that there is also a stigma to participating. JHA has some concern that there is a disincentive for participating in treatment where inmates may avoid disclosing information necessary for their treatment due to fear that such disclosure may result in later civil commitment.”

The understaffing is also means the program is counterproductive, the report states.

“Although many inmates commented ont he dedication and hard work of the staff, with only two treatment staff members for 173 inmates, some inmates reported that their treatment is being compromised because at times staff are unable to remember who they are and who said what. This is an obvious problem.”

The John Howard Association also cited problems with the disabled and chronically ill inmates.

“Where a program requires active participation for success, IDOC must provide inmates with the means to participate,” the report states. JHA encountered several hearing-impaired and deaf inmates in the SDP program and the general population who reported experiencing difficulties and requested accommodations. The Big Muddy inmate orientation manual does detail that inmates can receive ADA communication plans. However, in one case, an individual reported that he asked to be moved to the front of the housing unit to be able to be aware of activity or announcements, and this had not been resolved months after the request. Inmates reported difficulty obtaining hearing aids and adequate translators, yet inmates are regularly disciplined and disadvantaged for not hearing. JHA recommends that IDOC create adequate means of communication for deaf and hearing-impaired inmates, and retrain staff on disability issues.”

Grievances were another problem at the facility reported by JHA.

“Current administrators acknowledged that there have been problems with the grievance process and stated that they also commonly hear from inmates that their grievances were not addressed,” the report states. “Inmates also reported that they are retaliated against for grievances and requested outside oversight of the grievance system. After JHA’s visit, we received reports of retaliation from inmates expressing concerns, including that multiple unnamed inmates were sent to segregation. JHA recommends that Big Muddy retrain staff on the importance of a functional grievance system and the inappropriateness of retaliation. Administrators stressed that inmates are not retaliated against because of grievances or any issues expressed to an outside agency, that staff are trained on the grievance system annually and reminded of it constantly, and that no inmate was taken to segregation as a result of speaking with JHA.”

The association issued these recommendations:

Hiring sex offender treatment staff at Big Muddy be prioritized and that Big Muddy track the success of their sex offender treatment program;

Simultaneously, JHA recommends that Illinois research the cost and effectiveness of its sex offender management laws and expand resources for sex offender reentry housing;

JHA recommends that IDOC ensure adequate means of communication for deaf and hard of hearing inmates, and retrain staff on disability issues;

JHA recommends that Big Muddy retrain staff on the importance of a functional grievance system, as well as the inappropriateness of retaliation;

JHA recommends that Big Muddy track segregation use;

JHA continues to recommend abolishing the $5 copay for healthcare;

JHA continues to recommend expansion of substance abuse treatment.