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Solano denied that the department retaliates against staff but said, instead, the agency “encourages employees to use the proper process” for reporting problems to the Office of the Executive Inspector General.

Quinn’s announcement of the prison closure plan has been followed by several reports of troubling incidents inside correctional facilities.

The AP reported earlier this month, after tipped by people knowledgeable about the prisons, on a string of violent incidents and an inmate drug overdose in the previous six weeks.

AFSCME members and correctional workers came to Springfield two weeks ago and publicly testified against closing prisons because of inmate overcrowding and understaffing. Illinois prisons currently hold about 48,000 inmates in a system designed for 33,000. The number of employees has fallen from more than 16,000 in 2002 to less than 12,000.

Days after AFSCME’s public forum, the (Decatur) Herald & Review reported on an internal Corrections memo that designated nine Tamms inmates for transfer to prisons out of state. That prompted lawmaker complaints that Tamms should stay open because other Illinois prisons couldn’t control some of the state’s worst criminals.

The Tamms supermax isolates gang leaders and violent troublemakers from the rest of the incarcerated population, stifling problems at other prisons, advocates say. Quinn says it’s underused and too expensive and wants it closed, along with a prison in Dwight.

The Decatur report prompted a letter to the newspaper from Corrections executive chief Jerry Buscher. It warned that publishing the information could jeopardize the safety of guards and inmates and would be viewed “as attempting to promote disorder within the prison system.”

Buscher sent a similar letter to The Associated Press after a reporter asked Solano about information from internal documents the AP had obtained.

Lindall said corrections officials told AFSCME the pat downs are necessary because officials recently found inmates with cellphones during a search at Stateville prison in Joliet. Solano confirmed authorities found contraband earlier this month at Stateville but would not comment further because an investigation is ongoing.

Toby Oliver, a correctional lieutenant at Tamms who was stabbed by an inmate at Stateville in 1995 and has criticized Tamms’ closure, called it “coincidental” that the pat downs began two days after the Decatur newspaper report.

He said he never remembers an end-of-shift pat down.

“What is coming out of the institution seems to be the priority,” Oliver said. “You’d think it would be the other way around.”