PONTIAC, Ill. (WMBD) — Unionized correctional staff were chanting for safe staffing outside of Pontiac Correctional Center on Wednesday, two weeks after a sergeant was stabbed in the neck by a person in custody and an officer was injured while stopping the assault.

Members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 494 rallied outside the prison. Union members are demanding that the Illinois Department of Corrections leaders take action immediately to improve working conditions and safety for staff working inside the prison.

“The state shouldn’t expect staff to be okay with being assaulted, not being able to go home to your family, having to go to the hospital because you got stabbed or having to go to the hospital because you got punched, kicked, spit on, feces thrown on your face,” said William Lee, a correctional lieutenant at Pontiac Correctional Center. “Whatever it is. I think DOC just grown to expect staff to just deal with it and that’s not acceptable for anyone that’s working here.”

There have been 138 staff assaults at the prison this year alone.

The stabbing incident that prompted this picket was the second stabbing incident at the prison in 2022.

Pontiac is authorized to have 1,140 employees and only has 600 including security and non-security. They are short 309 correctional officers and that does not include higher ranking correctional staff like sergeants and lieutenants.

“Staffing is an issue. Along with staffing we’re talking about safety in working conditions. Properly staffed facilities help make it safe for staff as well as inmates or individuals in custody,” said Ralph Portwood, a correctional clerk at Stateville Correctional Center.

Both Lee and Portwood are presidents of their respective union chapters. They say they want their concerns to be heard and for proper actions to be taken by the higher ups in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

“We want people to understand that we do a job that most can’t do and don’t want to do. And we just want to be appreciated. And we want these facilities to be properly staffed as well as the rest of the state of Illinois when it comes to state employment. We do a job most can’t do and don’t want to do. We want to be treated in a way that we’re supposed to be treated and get these vacancies filled,” Portwood said.

Both presidents said months prior to the incident a letter was sent to the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections concerning staffing a safety measures. They are still waiting on a response.