SPRINGFIELD (AP) — The union representing Illinois prison workers is denouncing what it says is a return of "circuit riders" — hardcore, sometimes brutal inmates shipped from prison to prison to keep them out of trouble — after prisoners suspected in an attack last week were transferred to less-secure lockups, The Associated Press has learned.
In a letter Wednesday to Department of Corrections Director S.A. "Tony" Godinez, a regional director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees demanded an end to transfers until Godinez negotiates safety concerns with the union.
The AP obtained a copy of the letter which traces several violent incidents to the closure of the Tamms high-security prison that housed violent troublemakers and gang leaders, and what the union claims are "deplorable, crowded conditions" in the prisons.
A Godinez spokeswoman said recent inmate transfers are temporary and routine during internal investigations into trouble inside prison walls.
After one incident last week, AFSCME regional director Eddie Caumiant said as many as 15 inmates implicated in an attack on two Menard maximum-security prison officers and a chaplain were moved to "lower-rated facilities" accompanied by no information on the risks they pose to receiving institutions and their employees.
"Despite assurances to the contrary from the state during the litigation around the Tamms closure, it appears you are returning to the risky, discarded practice of treating the most dangerous offenders in the system as 'circuit riders' ... ," Caumiant wrote. "As you know, this practice proved so ineffective and unsafe that the state built a dedicated facility for these offenders rather than continue it."
It's especially dangerous, Caumiant said, when the prisons are overcrowded and have too few employees guarding them. Illinois' adult correctional facilities have more than 49,000 inmates in space designed for 33,000.