The Associated Press reports that Illinois authorities took the unusual step of searching guards and other prison employees for contraband as they left at least seven facilities last week, sparking worker allegations that the checks may have been reprisals for complaints to the media about overcrowding and understaffing. A prison spokeswoman would not confirm that the searches had intensified, but she said they are a routine security measure to control banned materials from cellphones to weapons.
The controversy comes as Gov. Pat Quinn pushes a cost-cutting plan to shutter several state correctional facilities. The move has been fiercely resisted by prison workers who fear increased violence if currently isolated gang members are moved elsewhere. The searches began just days after prison workers complained publicly in Springfield about prison conditions and followed a newspaper report about where some displaced inmates would go. The employees' union said such searches are rare and may constitute “retaliatory harassment. State policy allows searches of employees at any time to ensure they are not carrying banned materials, from magazines and cigarettes to illegal drugs and weapons.