Danville prison locked down after assault on guard
DANVILLE — A Danville Correctional Center inmate who previously had been charged with aggravated sexual assault lured a female officer into a laundry room early Thursday morning, punched her in the jaw and attempted to rape her, union officials said Friday.
The medium-security prison on Danville's east side remained on lockdown on Friday following the assault. It will remain so until an investigation is finished.
The inmate, whose name is not being released because of the investigation, was housed in a gymnasium, said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. The gym is being used to house about 100 inmates because of overcrowding.
Around 2 a.m., the inmate was sent from the gym to a housing unit's laundry room to wash the gym inmates' laundry, Lindall said. The inmate told the officer the washing machine wasn't working. When she followed him to the laundry room, she was attacked, according to reports.
Lindall said another inmate, who was in a shower area, heard the officer's screams and ran into the laundry room.
"That inmate interceded ... and engaged the attacker until other officers were able to respond," he said.
An Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman said the officer was treated and released.
"Any physical contact with a guard is unacceptable, but ... fortunately, the officer was not seriously injured," said Tom Shaer, the communications director.
"It is important to note, the investigation is continuing, and the assault has not been further categorized," Shaer added. "The inmate who committed the assault was convicted of aggravated domestic battery, and he had presented no such issues during his time at Danville."
Another union official called the attack the first serious incident at the prison in years.
"We've always had fights and minor issues," said Rick DePratt, president of AFSCME Local 2052. "But we've not had a serious attack on a guard in Danville for many years.
On Friday morning, DePratt said the officer would need further medical attention.
While the inmate pleaded guilty and was sentenced to the lesser charge of aggravated domestic battery, Lindall said he originally was charged with aggravated sexual assault. He didn't know anymore details of the crime.
Vermilion County State's Attorney Randy Brinegar said prison officials contacted him about the incident on Thursday, but the inmate hasn't been charged yet.
"I'm still waiting to receive the report," Brinegar said Friday afternoon.
AFSCME officials said the attack is a direct result of the state's overcrowded prison system and understaffing of correctional officers. They added the situation was exacerbated when Gov. Pat Quinn closed the super maximum-security prison at Tamms, which housed some of the state's most violent offenders, and other facilities in the state in April. That came at a time when the prison system had an all-time high inmate population, they added.
The Danville prison was built for 896 inmates. It currently houses 1,931, DePratt said.
Lindall said Danville is one of eight prisons in the state to bunk inmates in the gym in recent months after Tamms and four other correctional facilities were shuttered.
Despite the increase in inmates, Lindall said, the prisons, including Danville's, remain "dangerously" understaffed. He said the facility has had as many as 235 officers in the past, at a time when the population was lower, but currently has only 185.
"Of course, that's ... working three different shifts on seven different days," Lindall said.
At the time of the attack, the officer was alone on a housing unit with 448 inmates, Lindall said. He said prison directives require that two officers be posted on each unit at all times.
"But there has been a practice at Danville and some other facilities of assigning one of those officers to perform other duties during the overnight shift, consequently leaving a lone officer on the housing unit for extended stretches," Lindall said, adding the union has "repeatedly" voiced its concerns to management. "It was during one such stretch of time ... when this attack occurred."
However, Corrections spokesman Shaer disputed that the officer was working alone.
"The corrections officer who was assaulted was absolutely not the only officer with the inmates at the time," he said, adding department procedure calls for three officers — two officers and a control officer. "That proven effective level of staffing was in place during the shift covering this assault."
Lindall also said the inmate should not have been allowed in the laundry room overnight.
"That's something that is contrary to directives. ... When inmates are given jobs like this, they're referred to as porters. There are not supposed to be porters on the third shift," Lindall said.
In a release, Shaer said the Corrections Department "takes all incidents very seriously, as safety and security are our constant priorities.
"We have interviewed the officer, who is at home, other staff and inmate witnesses as we gather all the facts. Director (S.A.) Godinez has also talked to the officer and extended his continued thanks for the fine work being done by this experienced individual and all DOC personnel," Shaer said.