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Ensure electricity for prisons

Electrical outages at certain Illinois prisons have raised concerns in all prison communities, including Dixon. Prison officials are correct to take action to prepare for future outages.

Published: Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

Power outages run the gamut from inconvenient to life-threatening.

Somewhere on the higher end of that scale is the situation a community faces when electricity is cut to a prison.

On Aug. 20, the Vandalia Correctional Center lost electricity for 92 minutes because of a storm.

During the outage, one prisoner attacked a guard.

Other prisoners became unruly.

Because Vandalia does not have a backup generator, the prison was at the mercy of its electrical power provider to restore electricity as soon as possible.

In the meantime, prison administrators are instructed to manage such situations with flashlights, lanterns and extra staff.

The Illinois Department of Corrections appears to have learned a lesson from the experience, which followed outages (and corresponding inmate unrest) at the Vienna Correctional Center in January and East Moline Correctional Center in 2012.

First, state prison officials say they have a backup generator for Vandalia in the works. It is currently being customized at a factory.

Second, officials asked all state prisons in Illinois to retest their emergency power equipment. All prisons, except the aforementioned Vandalia and a halfway house in Peoria, have backup generators on the grounds.

Third, battery-operated emergency lights are to be tested as well.

The state’s response is a mixture of reactive and proactive measures, although an AFSCME union spokesman said prison system leaders were “managing by crisis.”

We expect that the Dixon Correctional Center warden, administration, and guards will take this opportunity to further prepare for the power outage that they hope never happens.

When the electricity goes out, people expect certain facilities to remain up and running.

The local hospital and radio dispatch services for police, fire and ambulance are at the top of the list.

For prison communities, an additional top priority is obvious. For the safety of everyone inside, and outside, those prison walls, power for prisons must be ensured.

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