November 27, 2023

Severe assaults on employees in two state prisons

Educator and officer brutally beaten at Sheridan

Sheridan Correctional Center is a medium-security facility. It’s not built for—nor are staff trained to supervise—maximum-security inmates. But that’s exactly what the Department of Corrections is now demanding that employees do.

As the department searched for more beds during the pandemic, it made the decision to transfer 400 inmates from Stateville Correctional Center (a maximum-security facility) to Sheridan. To make the transfer possible, the department issued emergency reclassifications of those 400 inmates from maximum to medium security.

Sheridan is considered a program facility with a highly-regarded drug treatment program to facilitate community reentry. Almost overnight, it went from housing medium-risk offenders to people serving life sentences for homicide and sex offenses. Since those inmates have come to Sheridan, the frequency at which contraband is discovered—most commonly synthetic marijuana, fentanyl and heroin—has exploded.

It was one of those reclassified offenders who recently assaulted two AFSCME members, sending them both to the hospital—one with injuries that required reconstructive plastic surgery on her face.

Tori Boyle is an educator at Sheridan who has been teaching adult basic education for four years. During one of her classes an inmate became agitated, and Boyle told him to leave the class because his behavior was disruptive.

After 30 minutes, he somehow made his way back to the classroom, where he confronted Boyle again. He struck her in the face, splitting her lip in half and opening a gash roughly an inch-and-a-half long.

Once the offender left the classroom, he encountered Chris Nosalik, a correctional officer patrolling the halls, and immediately punched him in the face.

Nick Crisman, president of AFSCME Local 472 at Sheridan, said the local made a number of demands in subsequent meetings with prison management. They demanded that 12 extremely high-risk inmates be transferred immediately, and that the remaining 400 reclassified inmates be transferred as soon as possible. They also demanded that cameras be installed in all classrooms, that an electronic lock be installed on the door to the school and that additional radios be provided for staff that don’t currently have them.

So far, management has only followed through on the radios—partly. Just 25 of the 60 have been provided.

“I always used to say that it’s going to take someone getting hurt for the department to get serious about this,” Crisman said. “Now, I don’t even think that’s enough.”

Boyle is still recovering from her physical injuries, while also coping with the psychological aftereffects. She’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Nosalik suffered bruises to his head and face, including a cut above his eye that required stitches. He returned to work just two weeks after the incident but had to go on medical leave after persistent vision problems stemming from the assault emerged.

In the absence of any real commitment from departmental leaders, workers have taken it upon themselves to do what they can to tighten security to prevent something like this from happening again.

“We’re doing what we can to make Sheridan safer,” Crisman said. “But Springfield is not.”

Short-staffing contributed to assault on CO at Joliet Treatment Center

A correctional officer at the Joliet Treatment Center (JTC)—a Department of Corrections facility for offenders with severe mental illnesses—was viciously attacked by an offender. Due to a severe staffing shortage at the facility, she was the only officer in the unit at the time.

The incident began when a nurse passing out medication through one of the units began to feel ill after she reported seeing an inmate consuming an illicit substance which she suspected to be synthetic marijuana.

At this point, a team came through the unit to sweep the cells looking for the substance. Once the team left, just a single officer was left on the floor of the unit. Under fully staffed conditions, there should have been three. She was attempting to get the inmates back in their cells when one lashed out.

The offender slammed her head against the wall and punched her at least 30 times as her fellow officers ran to her aid. She was rushed to the hospital, then eventually airlifted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She suffered a broken eye socket, nose and left jaw.

“On the next shift after the assault, management wanted the offenders to go back to the programming,” said Sheena McClain, vice president of AFSCME Local 1753, which represents workers at the JTC. “We took a stand and said no. They really don’t care about the safety of the staff, and that shows it.”

The local leadership made clear to management that prioritizing offender programming over the safety of the staff can’t continue. When there aren’t enough staff, programming should be temporarily halted.

The local also received a commitment from management that they would totally exhaust the overtime list even if the workers can only stay for a half shift, rather than a full shift as management wants. This immediate change has already helped improve officer staffing on the units.

The officer who was assaulted requested that her name not be used. She is still recovering from the numerous fractures and head injuries she suffered.

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