A high-ranking official with the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) said that the training and fitness standards for correctional officer trainees have plummeted so far under IDOC Director John Baldwin that he fears for the safety of the guards and inmates in the state’s 35 prisons.
“Every day I wake up thinking that this is the day, the day that we are going to have a major incident,” the official told Prairie State Wire on the condition of anonymity to protect his job.
His concerns range from the quality of cadets at the six-week IDOC Training Academy in Springfield, and the lack of discipline while there, to the unprofessional appearance of the new uniforms worn by guards. The guards are transitioning from navy blue police-style uniforms to tan polo shirts and blue pants that make them look like they should be “working at Best Buy, not as peace officers," according to the source.
This unflattering comparison to Illinois State Police cadets was recently circulating throughout the Illinois Department of Corrections.
“We are being flooded with undesirable cadets filtering through the academy,” the source continued. “We recently had a cadet who weighed in upwards of 450 pounds. I understand we have vacancies to fill but hiring these individuals that are walking in the door unfit for the job is a cancer that will be eating away at our department for years.”
A guard's physical appearance can have a direct impact on job performance, the official said.
“Your first line of defense is physical presence,” he said. “This is a basic model of the use of force continuum used throughout law enforcement. If you don't physically look capable and professional, you will be forced to immediately go to step two."
Step two under the use of force continuum is tactical communication. There are six steps in all, the last being the use of lethal force.
The official also noted that rather than wearing the traditional seven-point badges, the badges are now stitched into the polo shirts. Each guard carries an ID card attached to a lanyard worn around the neck – a potential weapon for a prisoner, the source said.
“You can strangle someone with those things,” he said.
The official attributed some of the decline to Baldwin’s lack of experience with a prison system the size of IDOC's. He was previously the director of the Iowa Department of Corrections, responsible for approximately 8,000 inmates throughout the state, before taking the IDOC job under Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2015 and suddenly overseeing a statewide prison population of nearly 50,000 inmates.
The State of Illinois website says that Baldwin is “responsible for overseeing the management and operations of more than 35 Illinois state prisons, work camps, boot camps and transition centers, as well as the supervision of parolees.” He oversees a staff of nearly 11,600.
The starting salary for a Correctional Officer Trainee is $42,432 per year, according to the state’s website.
The source added that the “hug-a-thug” mentality and “college campus atmosphere” that Baldwin brought to the position has had a negative impact on IDOC's once lofty standards for cadets.
“We had trainees running around in animal costumes,” the official said. “One was dressed up as a Jersey cow. That’s a true story. People no longer take the training at the academy seriously. It’s supposed to be training for peace officers, but there is no discipline. The fitness-level requirement is ridiculous.”
To illustrate the point, a satirical photo contrasting IDOC cadets with Illinois State Police cadets had been circulating the department until authorities recently put a stop to it.
An IDOC spokesperson had no response to the official’s dire assessment of the department's training policies. Other IDOC officials did not return calls from Prairie State Wire seeking comment.