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Illinois prisons struggle with backup power issues

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Illinois Department of Corrections officials have asked the state's correctional facilities to retest emergency power equipment after an Aug. 20 power outage at Vandalia Correctional Center.

One prisoner at the minimum-security facility attacked a guard and others became unruly during a 92-minute blackout caused by a storm, the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reported. Two separate prison power outages caused similar upheaval among inmates at Vienna Correctional Center in January and East Moline Correction Center in 2012.

All of the state's prison facilities have backup generators, except Vandalia and a Peoria halfway house, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said portable generators can be brought into those two facilities in the event of a prolonged power outage.

"Flashlights, lanterns and extra staff are put in place in the short term until portable generators are up and running," he said.

Prisons also can be put on lockdown to restrict the movement of inmates.

Eddie Caumiant, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said the light failures highlight a lack of necessary funding.

"They've been managing by crisis for the past decade at least," Caumiant said. "Entropy finds a way to expose the weakest link."

Shaer denied Caumiant's contention, noting that a back-up generator for Vandalia is currently being customized at a factory.

Others are also taking additional steps to prepare for potential outages. A contractor is being sought for repair and maintenance on an emergency generator at Menard Correctional Center in Chester.

Shaer said corrections facilities routinely test emergency equipment, but department leaders have asked all facilities to test their battery-operated emergency lights again.

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