From Illinois Public Radio - News Local/State -

Gymnasiums to House Some Illinois Prisoners

The Illinois department of corrections has told the union for prison workers that they plan to start housing men in the gymnasiums at six already overcrowded prisons.

The move comes as Gov. Pat Quinn plans to close Dwight correctional facility requiring inmates to be shuffled around the prison system.

There are 49,000 people being housed in facilities built for 33,000. That's before Gov. Quinn began closing a pair of prisons.

Gov. Quinn has already shuttered Tamms, in deep southern Illinois. Next up is an all women's correctional center in Dwight, an hour northeast of Bloomington. 

The union representing Illinois prison guards say security is threatened by Gov. Quinn's plan to house inmates in prison gymnasiums. Union spokesman Anders Lindall said moving prisoners to gymansiums is degrading to inmates and makes the prisons less safe.

"The inhumanity of those conditions," Lindall said. "If you imagine a hundred convicted offenders in a one gymnasium, and just having that many people on top of one another, in one space, without the security of cells, in a wing or a dormitory that is designed for that purpose is going to raise tensions and

It is not the first time inmates have bunked in gyms. During roof repairs at the prison in Vandalia, Rickey Hudson was one of the minimum security prisoners who temporarily lived in its gym.

"It was roomy for me," Hudson recalled, who said he liked the gynamasium setting more compared to the dorms. "Like in these dorms they're just so small, and then there's 88 inmates and the room is like, what, 20, 30 feet?"

But Vandalia's warden said the dorms can safely accommodate 88 inmates. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections said safety and security remain its top priority, and it is managing the inmate population responsibly. In a written statement, the agency said housing inmates in gymnasiums is temporary though they do not outline any plan to relieve the already historic overcrowding that will be made worse by the prison closures.

For the last eight months, Illinois Public Radio station WBEZ has had a standing request to interview Gov. Quinn about his prison policy, but he has refused.