Union protests unsafe conditions at Pontiac Correctional Center
Following yet another inmate attack on staff at the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center—where an officer was stabbed in the head by an inmate with a crudely made shank—the members of AFSCME Local 494 demonstrated outside the facility on March 15.
Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch (pictured, speaking) joined local union members who work on the prison’s front lines to raise awareness of inmate assaults on staff and lay out specific steps that can make the facility safer for employees and inmates alike.
"This is a dangerous job, but the Department of Corrections is making it more dangerous, putting employees’ safety at risk," AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch told WMBD-TV. “The department is making changes in policy without talking to employees and without taking safety into account. The officers that deal with these inmates every day know who’s more dangerous, they know who’s more violent, and they should be consulted.”
Data show that Pontiac has by far the highest rate of assaults on staff of any state prison, and it’s getting worse. Such incidents increased 50% in calendar 2016 compared to the previous year.
In addition to housing the system’s most violent population, one in six Pontiac inmates is classified as seriously mentally ill.
AFSCME proposes several steps to help improve safety at Pontiac for employees and inmates alike:
- More communication with staff. The input and perspective of security employees should be included when decisions affecting security are made, including physical plant changes.
- Gradually step down inmates from long-term segregation. Allow for careful readjustment and transition when reintegrating inmates into the general population, doing so slowly with gradual increases in interaction. Allow fewer restrictions and additional opportunities for interaction with the general population only as each step (e.g. having a cellmate, movement in the facility without cuffs) goes well.
- Add mental health staff, including more psychiatrists and other higher-level clinicians. Inmates diagnosed with or exhibiting signs of mental illness must have proper assessments and treatment, including medication as necessary.
- Increase security staff on segregation units. The more volatile conditions in these units require adequate staff, especially for ensuring safety during increased movements. This includes adding command staff, especially sergeants.
- Ensure consequences for assaultive behavior. DOC must hold inmates accountable for major infractions like assaults on staff or other inmates.