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Political Patronage In Hiring Illinois Prison Wardens?

Julie Wilkerson was a Rend Lake College associate music professor and band director making under $40,000 annually when she was hired as an assistant warden at Indianas Big Muddy River Correctional Center at a salary of $65,000 a year. Two other newly-minted Illinois assistant wardens were formerly an auto-parts store manager and a farmer who sold irrigation equipment on the side. None of the three had any detention training or experience. What did they have in common, other than being given high-paying, senior positions in the corrections department? They were all contributors to Democratic political campaigns. For instance, Wilkerson contributed $500 to Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White in 2002 and another $1,500 three months before being hired as an assistant warden.

Although Dede Short, spokesperson for the corrections department, claims that there is no quid pro quo in the hirings, federal officials have subpoenaed the hiring records of the state Departments of Corrections, Transportation and Child Welfare to investigate a possible pattern of patronage-based hiring. At least eight prison wardens are known to have made contributions. Of the eight, seven were made wardens after Governor Rod Blagojevich took office, two of whom had not previously worked for the corrections department.

Meanwhile, guards are becoming concerned about the quality of the senior personnel in the prisons.

Weve recently witnessed the meltdown at FEMA when political hirees replace career professionals in that federal agency and the tragedy that occurred in New Orleans as a result of the inexperience of people who had been put in positions of power, said Bill Maupin, regional director of AFSCME Council 31, which represents prison guards. Without commenting on any one particular persons qualifications, its our concern that were witnessing a similar set of issues arising in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Illinois is also suffering from a decline in the number of guards over the past eight years. The decline in some position has resulted in as much as a 45% lower guard-to-prisoner ratio. The decline is being caused by the current and former governors attempts to save money by not filling state job openings. This decline has made the prisons more dangerous, according to Maupin.

This also illustrates the importance of deposing prison official defendants about their education and professional training backgrounds during litigation. All too often courts defer to the purported professional expertise and judgment of prison officials merely by virtue of the fact that they have a job in the prison system. Exposing that that professional experience was bought with campaign contributions or is otherwise non existent may help litigants advance their claims.

Source: Illinois Times.

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