For almost 50 years, the Vienna Correctional Center, VCC, has been a part of the Johnson County community.
Buildings #19 and 20 were the only buildings in 1965, but 10 more have been added since.
Some of the buildings added to the facility in the late 1970s include chapels and a town square, but more buildings meant more inmates and the challenge of having a safe, humane place for incarceration for the adult male inmates became greater.
The Vienna Times was invited into Vienna Correctional Center for a tour of the facility, with an interview with VCC Warden Robert Hillard, on Thursday, Nov. 13. The tour was pre-planned a week prior with Director of Communications for the Illinois Department of Corrections, IDOC, Tom Shaer.
When the Times was at VCC Thursday the facility was on lockdown due an altercation that happened the evening before. An inmate attacked four guards within the facility.
One officer had a seriously injured wrist. Another officer received minor cuts and bruises. Two other lieutenants were treated in the health care unit for the removal of O.C. spray (pepper spray) from the face and eyes.
According to Shaer the offending inmate was immediately removed from the facility.
IDOC has not released the names of individuals involved in the incident.
This is the third serious assault incident in the past 10 years and three months at the facility, according to Hillard.
As of press time, the facility remained on a level 4 lockdown, which is the second lightest lockdown level.
The reason for minimal movement is for investigation purposes.
The level 4 lockdown gives inmates minimal movements and only two-hour visits.
According to Hillard, the incident is believed to ‘be isolated and not planned.’
“We have an obligation to protect our officers and inmates, but officers take priority,” Hillard said.
Another incident that has haunted Vienna Correctional Center is a lawsuit filed in 2012.
In 2011, the John Howard Association, which is a prison watchdog organization, did a case study on the facility and said it needed several improvements. This study was cited several times in a lawsuit filed by three inmates for having inhumane living conditions.
During the interview, Shaer gave statists that the Vienna Correctional Center and the IDOC is working to improve the safety and conditions of the facilities.
• In the three years prior to June 30 of 2013, 36 cell phones were confiscated from inmates within the IDOC system. California found 900 cell phones in the same amount of time and Texas found 600 in a span of one year.
• The average amount of suicides in Illinois’ prison facilities is four to six. This year, the count will be closer to eight.
• The assault on staff is up 20 percent.
Shaer explained why this was a good thing. This statistic includes minor assaults including an inmate spitting on an officer, throwing their ID badge at an officer or bumping into an officer. If the officer is telling an inmate if they throw an ID tag, spit, throw food, etc., that is going onto that inmates record and will hurt their earned time. For example, if the inmate has served 14 out of 18 months, more time can be added because the examples above are, by definition, assault if the officer decides to write the inmate up.
• Inmate population has risen nine percent in the last three to four years. The number of serious assaults on staff has gone down by a few incidents.
• Inmate on inmate assault is one of the leading causes of officer injury due to the officer breaking up altercations. Serious inmate on inmate assault over the last two fiscal years has gone down 35 percent.
• Since 2000, the number of homemade weapons found in Illinois prisons has decreased 78 percent.
Hillard said he believes a big part in the decreased weapons is because of the thorough investigations they conduct and the random shakedowns.
“We investigate everything,” Shaer said.
The operational capacity of the minimum-security prison at Vienna is 1,730. There are currently 1,642 inmates housed at the Vienna Correctional Center.
The facility also runs the Dixon Springs Boot Camp, which is 10 minutes away from the main prison. This is for inmates with short sentences and minor offenses. Both men and women are involved in the boot camp. This boot camp’s operational capacity is 250. There are currently 170 inmates.
Some statistical research from IDOC indicated that there are 1,813 inmates in the Vienna Correctional Center system, which would indicate that the prison is overcrowded. That is the number of inmates at the main prison and the boot camp, which have two separate operational capacities. Both facilities are operating under operational capacity.
“We are crowded, but we are not overcrowded,” Shaer said.
The Vienna Correctional Center is currently making several improvements to buildings and to the inmate’s daily schedules.
There is more LTS (leisure time supervised), a 5K run, several sport tournaments and more gym and yard time for the inmates.
“Free time ensures safety. We aren’t giving them fluffy pillows, but a humane incarceration,” Hillard said.
“Over the years, we continue to get better and we still look for ways to increase the security and safety.”
Shaer echoed, “We are always ready to listen and improve.”
VCC supervises inmates from the Dixon Springs Boot Camp in a recycling facility that recycles materials from the prison and from the City of Vienna.