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A Deadly Summer

We at the Law Center have recently received dozens of letters from prisoners at Stateville, Menard and Pontiac, complaining that the Department had instituted a new policy of banning all typewriters (typewriters which prisoners had purchased at the prison commissary), and banning any prisoner from having more than one fan.

Then yesterday we received a call from a guard at Stateville, complaining about the very same thing. He refused to give his name, but the details that he had strongly suggested that he was in fact a guard at Stateville. The guard said that when this new policy was announced at roll call, the guards objected, stating that it was completely unnecessary, and would only cause disruption in the prison. As to the typewriters, he said the guards suggested that the prison simply place a seal on all typewriters (as is now done with tvs and radios) so that it would be readily apparent if anyone opened a typewriter and tried to disassemble it. Their suggestion was ignored by the administration.

As to the fans, he noted that in the Spring, the Warden had circulated a memo advising prisoners that they could buy additional fans to help with the summer heat. Now, in the midst of the hottest summer in decades, this policy was reversed. When the new policy was announced at roll call, the guards suggested waiting until October, when it wasn’t so hot. Again, this was ignored.

He also stated that since the administration began confiscating these items, the tension at Stateville has increased dramatically, and there are many more fights. The guards are very concerned that prisoners will take out their frustration on the guards that are carrying out these new rules. Needless to say, given that we spend most of our time suing guards, I found this call very strange. He agreed, but said he was not doing this on his own, that he was calling with the approval of the Union. He said the guards were desperate, and thought that when the guards and the prisoners actually AGREE on something, the administration should pay attention. He asked that we assist in getting the word out.

We feel that the fans are a particularly urgent matter. According to articles in the press, two men have died in the last month at Pontiac, and one at Menard, all three deaths were apparently heat related (although we do not have names, or medical records). We have been told that the temperature in some of the cell houses has exceeded 120 degrees on hot days this month. None of the prisons are air-conditioned, so just imagine living in a closed cell, with very little air flow, with at least one other person, during the last few weeks of temperatures in or above the 90s.

As to the typewriters, an inmate wrote directly to Swingtec, the manufacturer, and received a reply that the typewriters could easily be adjusted to no longer pose a safety threat.

The fans and typewriters are both purchased by the inmates from their own funds. They are personal property. IDOC defends these policies on the grounds that the parts of these machines could be used as weapons, but when it’s 100 degrees out, I think I would be very reticent to take apart my fan. It seems as though if someone needs a weapon, they will find a way to obtain one.

People have died because of IDOC’s thoughtless policy. Regardless of what crime one has committed, no one deserves to bake to death in their cell.

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