The letter was sent to IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Exile on June 10, 2020. It claims VCC is “infested with black mold and rodents in the dining hall and kitchen, with feces in the food.” It also alleges the prison’s electrical system is deteriorated “to the point that the prison is being run on generators,” resulting in prisoners being unable to leave their cells to use the communal sinks to “wash their hands for many hours.”
It says the generators create noxious fumes and they are unreliable. It asserts that when the generators fail, medical professionals “try to dole out medication using flashlights,” which could result in “mistakes [that] are potentially lethal.”
“The combination of the COVID-19 threat with the extreme living conditions at the prison are a lethal mix, not only for individuals incarcerated in the facility but also for the staff and for the surrounding community in Southern Illinois,” the letter states. “COVID is a much greater threat to the lives of incarcerated individuals especially, because it is a deadly place to live. Should Vienna become a hotspot, it will be a vector through the staff for the surrounding area.”
A survey by the John Howard Association found that 75% of VCC’s prisoners reported not receiving enough cleaning supplies to maintain cleanliness in their cells. Over 80% said that despite the fact the prison is not in lockdown, they were not allowed to access the recreation yard in the previous week.
The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) says it is spending $2.3 million on maintenance at VCC. It also “has no plans to shut down Vienna Correctional Center,” said IDOC spokesperson Linsey Hess. She also denied that prisoners were denied water and said the electrical system was repaired in May.
Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said problems at VCC have accumulated over time. “The basic problem with Vienna is that it has been allowed to deteriorate for decades,” said Mills, who filed a lawsuit in 2012 to win repair of maintenance and sanitation issues at VCC.
The point of the petition was to show that the problems at VCC actually exist. “I felt that if this petition was created, that we could show IDPH, the director, and everybody else that our complaints are real,” said Melissa Flores, whose fiancé is incarcerated at the prison. “I just feel like they’re holding these inmates hostage” in dangerous conditions during a pandemic.
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