Inmates recently released from prisons in Illinois say they're not surprised that Gov. Pat Quinn won't let reporters in to see conditions.
Chris Clingingsmith just completed seven years behind bars for driving drunk. He lost his wife, his house, his cars and his motorbike, but he’s glad he got caught when he did because he would have been in a much worse situation than he’s in now if he had stayed on the streets and hurt someone.
He said prison isn't supposed to be fun, but the Vandalia prison doesn’t meet even basic standards. He said he wouldn't even house a dog in the kind of conditions men are enduring in basements at the minimum security institution.
Chicago Public Radio has been asking to visit the prison for several months, but Gov. Pat Quinn has said no.
“They don't want you to see firsthand what we're telling you,” Clingingsmith said. “I have no reason to lie. I'm not in there anymore so they can't do anything to me. If you walked in there, I'm not going to exaggerate, you would probably just go wow, they actually house people in these areas. You would be amazed. You would think that's above and beyond punishment.”
Clingingsmith said a lot of the men housed at Vandalia are getting very mad. Clingingsmith said the lawmakers who oversee the prisons need to get to Vandalia so they know what’s going on.
Gov. Quinn said he wants to look into the conditions at some of Illinois' minimum-security prisons. A watchdog group and former inmates have reported deplorable conditions at the prisons in Vienna and Vandalia.
Those reports indicate some areas were overrun with rats and roaches, and men slept in rooms that flooded every time it rained. But despite repeated requests, Quinn says he won’t let reporters in to see the conditions firsthand.
"Yeah, well I don't believe in that. I think that it's important that -- when it comes to our security of our prisons, I go with the correctional office -- the director that I have at the Department of Corrections. Security comes first and it isn't a country club," Quinn said.
Quinn said he will look into the conditions, and would only say if reforms are needed. He wants to be sure they're done "properly."
Quinn is currently working on closing some prisons, but the union representing workers opposes those closures, saying overcrowding will get worse.
Illinois spends more than a billion dollars a year on prisons.