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Escape proves prison at risk, union claims

Escape proves prison at risk, union claims

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A prison escape is affording a we-told-you-so opportunity for union workers at the East Moline Correctional Center, who have been predicting dark days ahead for the burgeoning prison population.

Representatives of the Illinois Department of Corrections have not disclosed how David Stodolny, 41, escaped the minimum-security prison Wednesday. He fled about 8:50 a.m. and was back in custody by 10 a.m., according to a statement by the corrections department.

He was apprehended about a half mile from the prison, where he is serving a five-year sentence for cocaine possession. He also served time in prison in 1994 in connection with a vehicle theft, records show.

The escape is the second one since October.

“We predicted this,” said Gregg Johnson, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 46, which includes correctional officers at the East Moline prison. “This prisoner never should have been there. Minimum-security prisons are designed for transitioning back into the community. You have to earn your way into EMCC.

“That wasn’t the case here.”

Johnson said that prior to the incident in October, no prisoner had escaped from East Moline in at least 15 years.

Two hours after Stodolny was taken back into custody, Johnson made a statement at a Moline news conference that was attended by local legislators. He was highly critical of the corrections department, saying officials at the department have long assumed a “reactive role” with prison matters but now assume an “inactive” role.

“They deny, deny, deny everything that occurs,” he said. “They have to start dealing with things.”

The corrections department, however, responded to the escape with the following statement: “The department takes escape incidents extremely seriously and is actively investigating the circumstances behind this incident. Illinois DOC’s top priority is the safety and security of facilities and the general public, and the department will continue to reinforce security related policies during the ongoing investigation.”

In addition to its complaints about the state agency in charge of prisons, union members also are opposed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close the supermax prison, Tamms, and the women’s prison at Dwight. Inmate populations already are on the rise at the East Moline facility, and the number of correctional officers has, at the same time, fallen.

“The governor’s budget and subsequent closure plans are putting my members at risk with too many inmates and not enough staff,” Johnson said.

In coming weeks, he said, the inmate population will reach 1,400, and the officer count is less than 140. In 2000, Johnson said, East Moline had 211 officers and a population of about 1,000 inmates.

He cited Wednesday’s escape as evidence the prison is at risk. Not only are there more inmates at East Moline, he said, but the inmates are classified differently, and many should not qualify for minimum-security classification.

“We have no double fences, nor a sniper tower to prevent violence in our yard or to stop inmates from going over the fence,” he said.

He also pointed to what workers have described as a “riot” at the facility earlier this month as evidence of “alarming conditions” at the prison. Officials from the corrections department have not agreed with the classification of the July 19 incident, which involved a power outage, as a riot.

Johnson said Stodolny was recaptured Wednesday after breaking into a home near the prison. Police have not confirmed a break-in occurred, but Rock Island County Sheriff Jeff Boyd said his department is investigating the possibility a crime was committed while the inmate was at large.

“They need to quit endangering my staff and the people in this community,” Johnson said. “Incidents of inmate violence are going to accelerate around the state until we come to the inevitable point where we lose a staff member to violence.”

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