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Problems Plague Illinois Jails And Prisons, Employees Watch Television for Pay

Problems Plague Illinois Jails And Prisons,
Employees Watch Television for Pay

by Michael Rigby

While Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was using Department of Corrections (DOC) resources to monitor his image on television, sex, drugs, and violence reigned supreme in the state's jails and prisons.

In 2002 and 2003, Illinois was reeling from its worst financial crisis in decades. State prisons were staggered by staff shortages resulting from deficit-related layoffs. And DOC employees around the state were busy watching television rather than prisoners.

Under a practice implemented in 1991, prison employees videotape and review television newscasts, then pass on relevant segments to the governor's office through interoffice mail. Most state prisons are set up to record the newscasts, said DOC spokesman Sergio Molina. But the practice has been expanded under Blagojevich. According to Molina, more time is being spent on videotaping now than under previous administrations.

In light of the budget deficit and staff shortfalls, many state politicians voiced concerns about the blatant waste of resources. With all of these problems facing Illinois, perhaps the governor should focus on those issues and not worry about how his hair looks on television," said Illinois GOP spokesman Jason Gerwig.

The criticism heated up after a May 14, 2003, memo surfaced. Written by former warden of the East Moline Correctional Center, Ian D. Oliver, the memo directed three DOC employees--one a prison psychologist--to watch daily newscasts and submit written reports. The memo was rescinded after the employees complained about the added work.

Ironically, less than a month before the memo was penned, Blagojevich had criticized a bloated DOC bureaucracy. The DOC contains 13 layers of management, Blagojevich said, 5 of which arguably do little or nothing toward dealing with inmates or keeping our community safe.

Cook County Jail

Unfortunately, it seems no one is concerned with keeping prisoners safe.

On August 18, 2003, 3 guards at Chicago's Cook County Jail were charged with having sex with 5 female prisoners.

In separate incidents, James Anthony III, Iyare Egonmwan, and Kenneth Swearnigen allegedly traded food, makeup, and money for sexual favors. All three guards were charged with custodial sexual misconduct, a felony.

Anthony, who is 28 and a married father of 5, faces 4 counts for allegedly having sexual relations with 4 prisoners in February and March 2003.

Egonmwan, 28, faces 2 counts for alleged sex acts involving 2 prisoners in November 2003. He had sexual contact with them on one occasion, simultaneously," said prosecutor Lauren Freeman.

Swearnigen faces one count for an alleged sex act that occurred in a jail bathroom in the first half of 2003.

The sexual misconduct charges are just the latest in a series of incidents at the jail.

In 1999 a gang of 40 guards allegedly beat and terrorized a group of prisoners. But it wasn't until the Chicago Tribune reported the incident in 2003 that seven guards were disciplined and a high-ranking jail official demoted. The U.S. attorney's office is currently conducting a civil rights investigation into the incident.

In another incident, guards at the jail allegedly beat five shackled prisoners in July 2000. However, Cook County prosecutor Richard Devine, citing conflicting accounts of what happened, announced in August 2003 that none of the guards would be charged.

Warrenville Prison

Prisoners were no safer in the state's prisons. On May 24, 2004, a DOC guard at the Warrenville Juvenile Detention Center was arrested for allegedly having sex with a l7-year-old female prisoner in December 2002. Charged with official misconduct, custodial sexual misconduct, and criminal sexual assault, Larry Johnson, 33, was being held in the DuPage County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Statesville Prison

The Statesville prison near Joliet is another hotbed of official malfeasance. Four guards at the maximum-security prison have been indicted for providing prisoners everything from drugs to cell-phones to sex.

One former guard, Robert Goodner, 28, was arrested for giving a cell phone to a known gang leader serving a life sentence. Goodner provided the phone in return for marijuana and an introduction to one of the leader's female friends. According to U.S. Attorney Scott Levine, the gang leader and other prisoners apparently used the phone every day from April to late September 2002. Prison officials provided no explanation as to how the prisoners were able to conceal the phone for six months.

Goodner, a gang member himself, also provided heroin and cocaine to at least eight other prisoners, most of whom were also gang members. Goodner ultimately pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 54 months in prison on December 19, 2003. Goodner had faced up to nine years in prison, but received the reduced sentence for turning in another corrupt guard, Tanya Flowers.

Flowers, 32, was convicted of having sex with at least two Statesville prisoners and smuggling in marijuana for another prisoner. After pleading guilty to the charges, Flowers was sentenced on January 25, 2004, to 39 months in federal prison. Like Goodner, Flowers, too, gave up another guard in exchange for a reduced sentence. Flowers's fall guy was Steven King, whom she also had sex with.

King, 25, was arrested on November 19, 2003 and charged with helping to arrange for Flowers to buy crack cocaine. But the buy was a setup: Flowers by this time was working as an informant for prosecutors.

King's reputed drug dealer Pharaohah Spencer, 26, was also caught up in the sting and charged with drug conspiracy. But unlike the former guards, Spencer received no leniency, even though he too pled guilty. On March 4, 2004, a federal judge sentenced him to 70 months in prison.

A fourth former guard at the prison, Keenan Martin, 27, was arrested on November 19, 2004, and charged with smuggling marijuana into the prison. Martin may have smuggled cocaine and heroin to prisoners as well, according to the criminal complaint.

Martin's case began on August 20, 2002, when a prisoner was caught with a package of marijuana. Another prisoner told prison officials that he saw Martin deliver the package and directed them to an empty cell where cocaine and five additional packages of marijuana were found. Confronted by investigators the same day, Martin immediately resigned. According to prosecutors, Martin admitted that he had smuggled marijuana to the same prisoner on several occasions because of financial problems.

PLN has reported extensively on Illinois jails, prisons; and related issues. See indexes for more.

Sources: Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Quad-City Times

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