Standing up against workplace violence
AFSCME members in the Departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice are advocating for safer policies in response to increasing assaults on staff—and among offenders—demanding changes to reduce the dangerous risks that employees face on the job every day. AFSCME representatives testified about those dangers to the House Appropriations Public Safety Committee at its Dec. 5 special legislative hearing.
Despite several years of steadily rising numbers of assaults on staff in many DOC and DJJ facilities, management failing to take action to prevent assaults. Moreover, in too many instances, departmental policies are actually contributing to the growing violence in these facilities.
AFSCME members across the state have been fighting back with public protests, labor-management meetings and news conferences. In fact the legistive hearing on the violence in Illinois adult and juvenile correctional facilities was convened in response to the conditions behind the walls that AFSCME brought to public attention.
At the hearing, AFSCME representatives—Anne Irving, Council 31 Policy Director; Corey Knop, president of Local 3600 at Lawrence CC and Retta Colbert, executive board member of Local 416 at IYC St. Charles—were first to speak.
Irving began by stating forcefully that correctional staff should not have to work in a violent environment—and all the legislators present agreed.
Colbert described the causes of high staff turnover—more than thirty staff have left in just the past two months.
“I’ve worked at IYC St. Charles for over four years,” Colbert said. “Since I started we have less structure and a lot more problems: More fights where five or six youth beat up one boy. More assaults on staff, resulting in serious injuries. Much more sexual behavior where the boys are putting their hands on female staff.”
Knop pointed legislators toward one of the central questions that must be answered.
“We’ve had some very serious assaults in the last 18 months, the worst I’ve seen in seven years at Lawrence,” Knop testified. “[W]e have reduced ability to use segregation as a deterrence tool….So without seg, what consequences can we put in place that are significant enough to deter this behavior?”
- Prioritize staff safety;
- Establish commensurate consequences for infractions and be consistent in their application;
- Increase staffing levels— security, treatment, and program staff;
- Provide adequate safety equipment—including working security vans and radios;
- Make the judges and monitors in the Rasho and RJ consent decree cases aware of the increasing assaults on staff and the need to identify solutions;
- Put in place an adequate number of mental health clinicians who can provide offenders with effective treatment, including medication, and addressing most urgently those whose mental illness leads to assaultive behaviors;
- Management and front line staff at the facility level should jointly identify those offenders with the most problematic behaviors and focus on them with an intensive and consistent program with no deviations;
- Halt number-driven and possibly budget-driven security reclassification; and
- Collect input from frontline staff during the security reclassification process so the staff who know the offender best have input.