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Harrisburg, IL

Juvenile violence increasing according to guards

Juvenile violence increasing according to guards
By: Arnold Wyrick

HARRISBURG, Ill. - A rise in violence at the Illinois Youth Center in Harrisburg is putting the guards life at risk.  According to the Regional Director for AFSME Council 31, Buddy Maupin, the problems began when the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice canceled the facilities Resocialization Program.

"Our members are coming to work and getting assaulted on a regular basis.  There's been an explosion in violence at this facility as a result of a lack of credible deterrent for misconduct," Maupin said.

Since the program designed to place the young inmates, up to age 17, was canceled in December more than a hundred inmates have been placed in confinement for violence.  And 14 correctional officers injured.

"The 2 convicts were fighting in a cell.  We went into break it up, while trying to restrain a convict my elbow got crushed by the convict.  It destroyed my tendons, nerve endings,a and ligaments.  I'm going to be in physical rehabilitation for months," says Correctional Officer Linda Mangrum .

Back in 2002 the facility was upgraded to a maximum security prison for some of Illinois' worst child criminals.  And there's been a 24% cutback in staff.

"Some of the youths in here aren't in here for stealing stuff from a store.  They're rapists, murders, and gang members," says Correctional Officer David Lowe.

For Debbie Smoot an employee at the prison for 22 years, she says these past couple of months have been the most dangerous time in the facility.  She almost lost her life at the hands of one of the inmates three weeks ago.

"I was making my count when I passed the door.  There was a sudden sound.  And then all of a sudden there was an arm around my throat choking me.  He picked me up off the ground by my neck, while his cell mate took my keys and tried to get out the back door," Smoot said.

"Fortunately another officer heard the struggle and called for assistance.  He couldn't see me at first because the convict was still choking me.  But the other officers finally stopped them.  And saved my life."

Maupin says the employees know that working behind bars with such young criminals can be dangerous.  But he adds they should still be assured some form of safety.

"Working in this center is never going to be a safe job.  We accept that, we accept that there are dangers associated with protecting the people that the courts have determined are not free to walk among us.  But these officers and their families have a right to know that they shouldn't have to worry about being injured and attacked on a daily basis," Maupin said.

The acting director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Kurt Friedenauer, hasn't returned any calls made to his office at this time, to ask him about the working conditions at the facility.

"There's nothing that's being handed down to them to make them accountable for their own actions.  And we're paying the price for it," says Correctional Officer Todd Shaffer.

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