State opens Pontiac prison to the media

By WEEK Producer

March 29, 2013 Updated Mar 29, 2013 at 9:56 PM CDT

PONTIAC, Ill. -- The state of Illinois opened the doors of Pontiac Prison to reporters Friday, with some restrictions.

The state has been reluctant about letting reporters into the lockups. The Governor said prisoners aren't there for the entertainment of the media.

So Friday's tour did not include cameras but News 25's Doug Smith said his previous tours of Pontiac with a camera still reflect today's reality.

The prison, built in 1871, remains one of the oldest such lockups still in use in the country. The signs warning prisoners they could be shot are still there but they are more faded now.

There are 1,984 prisoners at Pontiac. The question recently was "would the addition of 160 violent offenders from the closed super-max prison at Tamms add to problems at Pontiac?"

The warden said "no".

"With the ex-offenders from Tamms that came up here, we have had virtually zero issues from these guys other than the well known hunger strike that occurred a few months ago. We're well equipped to handle this type of population," said Warden Randy Pfister.

The head of the Pontiac Union local representing the prison guards, Frank Turner, said there are problems with overcrowding as more prisoners from closed facilities are being added to the populations of prisons like Pontiac.

The result is prisoners who were isolated are now bunking together with sometimes deadly results.

"In the last couple months, we've already had three individuals killed in their cells by their cellmates. I believe all three of these were double-cell segregations," said union president Frank Turner.

The warden said he is proud to be at Pontiac and said the closing of one prison, at Dwight, means additional personnel for his prison.

"In addition, I'm very excited for the Dwight staff to come down here because that's going to make things better for staff. Less stress. We'll be able to add some additional posts throughout the facility and make things more secure and get a lot more things done," said Pfister.

Dwight closed on Friday. 150 employees are being transferred to Pontiac.