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Inspector General slams Pontiac prison workplace culture

Outside a prison

A scathing report from the State Executive Inspector General show a climate of hazing and sexual discrimination created a hostile work environment at the state prison in Pontiac, including stating there is reason for disciplinary action against 10 employees for discriminating against a guard who was perceived to be gay.

The guard was repeatedly subjected to denigrating conduct at work in 2018 and 2019, including anti-gay slurs, harassing calls, multiple instances of graffiti, and an instance of unwanted physical contact, states the report.

It started with a prank by Lt. Adrian Corley, who created a fake incident report form and asked the guard to draw a sexually explicit picture of an incident involving an inmate performing a lewd act, said the report. That drawing and the story surrounding it were widely circulated in emails among guards and administrators.

The Inspector General said sharing the fictitious form throughout Pontiac "was not harmless fun. To the contrary, it was the catalyst that set off numerous incidents of harassment in the months that followed." The worker reported that after the incident with the fictitious form, he was the “subject of jokes around the institution.”

The guard was denied relief of an affirmative action investigation, forced to transfer to a different unit within the prison, was denied opportunities to work toward promotion, and denied repeated requests for a hardship transfer to a different corrections department facility, states the report. The worker said the tower duty reduced his chance to work toward promotion because it did not let him perform a variety of roles within the prison.

He eventually left the Department of Corrections.

“I now dread coming to work everyday because of the uncertainty of what I will have to endure from co-workers,” said the guard in his filing with the Office of Executive Inspector General (OEIG).

Disciplinary actions filed included measures against warden Teri Kennedy, two assistant wardens, four majors, and the head of the affirmative action program, among others. The warden and some administrators retired before disciplinary action could be taken. State attempts to fire several people involved were reversed in union grievance proceedings and penalties reduced to suspensions.

The report said Kennedy "abdicated her responsibility to provide a safe and professional working environment for her staff at Pontiac and placed the burden on the employee to say that he objected."

"As warden, Teri Kennedy was responsible for setting a professional tone at Pontiac, and promoting a working environment that ensured that all of her staff could successfully meet the significant challenges of their jobs," states the report. "Instead, she turned a blind eye to a culture where pranks and sexual jokes were commonplace, and that apparently allowed virtually the entire upper management at the facility to think such behavior by some staff at the expense of others was acceptable."

Kennedy acknowledged that she saw the fictitious form for the first time on Oct. 27, 2018 — the day after the prank, and she said the guard talked to her about it shortly thereafter, states the report.

"However, it appears that she did not take action to address it with staff, if at all, until after the worker later submitted an incident report on Nov. 8, 2018, nearly two weeks after the incident. Warden Kennedy said that at a regular meeting of Majors, Shift Supervisors, and Assistant Wardens, she discussed using email for work purposes, and directed staff to destroy any copies of the fictitious form and prevent others from further distributing it," said the report

The warden's claim does not match other accounts. According to the report "Lt. Corley said that no one told him he should not have used the fictitious form, or not to do it again; and Majors Shelton, Wheat, Cooper, and Prentice did not recall Warden Kennedy talking about the incident or holding a meeting at which the fictitious form was discussed."

"It is likely that other Pontiac staff who were not interviewed in the investigation also may have failed to take appropriate action and/or were involved in disseminating the fictitious form. The OEIG recommends that IDOC take similar action with respect to any other such employees," said the report.

Of those, investigated, the OEIG said:

  • Lt. Adrian Corley engaged in conduct unbecoming of an IDOC supervisor and misused state equipment.
  • Asst. Warden Glendal French engaged in conduct unbecoming of an IDOC supervisor and misused state equipment.
  • Asst. Warden Emily Ruskin engaged in conduct unbecoming of an IDOC supervisor and misused state equipment.
  • Major Susan Prentice engaged in conduct unbecoming of an IDOC supervisor and misused state equipment.
  • Major Rich Cooper engaged in conduct unbecoming of an IDOC supervisor.
  • Major William Shelton engaged in conduct unbecoming of an IDOC supervisor.
  • Major John Wheat engaged in conduct unbecoming of an IDOC supervisor.
  • Warden Teri Kennedy mismanaged Pontiac Correctional Center.
  • Office of Affirmative Action Administrator Fernando Chavarria committed misfeasance by failing to promptly investigate harassment complaints referred for investigation.

The OEIG said Office of Affirmative Action staff should be retrained on their obligations under the Administrative Directives and Chavarria should be removed from supervising that office, according to the report that recommended the corrections department implement written procedures or formal practices governing hardship transfer requests.

And the office recommended the current Pontiac administration take any and all necessary steps to promote a professional working environment and culture for all staff who work there, and to ensure that any future similar misconduct is immediately addressed and eradicated.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.