Union: Illinois prison worker assaults started with punch

- An inmate punched a correctional lieutenant at an Illinois prison, sparking an assault that involved six prison employees and five inmates, the prison workers union said Monday.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said four correctional officers and two lieutenants were treated for scratches, bruises and possible concussions suffered in the incident Sunday at the Pontiac Correctional Center. They have all been released from the hospital.

"An inmate just began punching the lieutenant and knocked her to the ground," said Joe Lewis, a correctional officer at the Pontiac facility in central Illinois and president of AFCSME Local 494. "Then other inmates joined in the assault, injuring the other employees who had come to her assistance."

The Illinois Department of Corrections has put the facility on lockdown and is investigating. IDOC spokeswoman Nicole Wilson said Monday that the prison will remain on lockdown until the department finishes its investigation. At that time, the department will refer the case to the Livingston County prosecutor, she said.

Lewis said there has been other inmate violence and harassment toward correctional employees at the facility. He said policies and procedures to keep workers safe have been ignored or substituted with ineffective practices.

Wilson disputed Lewis' version of events.

"The events that led to this incident do not appear to be the result of a lack of policy or a breakdown in existing policies but rather a failure to follow workplace safety procedures already in place. DOC's investigation will include why procedures weren't followed and how future incidents can be prevented," Wilson said.

IDOC released no other details about the incident and didn't say what a lockdown at the facility entails. The prison's website said no visitors are allowed. Wilson didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the union's comments.

The prison is about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. It has maximum and medium security areas and can house nearly 2,300 inmates.

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