Activists and family members of people incarcerated in Vienna Correctional Center are calling on the Illinois Department of Public Health to shut down the minimum-security prison in southern Illinois.

The prison has been plagued by electrical issues, which caused intermittent power outages over several weeks in May, according to news reports.

Prison officials have relied on backup generators, which generate noxious fumes and are themselves unreliable.

The petition also claims the prison is infested with black mold and rodents in the dining halls and kitchen. These ongoing issues have made the facility dangerous, especially during a pandemic.

Activists have often called for the closure of prisons, including Stateville, Pontiac and Menard.

Vienna, which opened in November 1965, is often on the list.



Earlier this spring, a group of educators donated tens of thousands of dollars worth of hand sanitizer and soap to the Illinois Department of Corrections in an effort to help inmates protect themselves from the coronavirus.

But some inmates and their loved ones say prisoners have yet to benefit from this donation, and that more cleaning supplies are needed.

After Illinois prisons closed to visitors and outside groups working in the prison, educators from the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP) wanted to find a way to help their students and other incarcerated people during the pandemic.

Rebecca Ginsburg, who leads a college-in-prison program that offers University of Illinois classes to incarcerated men at the Danville Correctional Center, says IL-CHEP reached out to prison staff to ask what they could do.

“And the response to that was: we would really appreciate sanitizer and masks,” Ginsburg says. “That was when it became clear that our roles were going to change from being that of educators to being among the parties that are working hard to do our best to ensure that our students and others who are locked up stay healthy and stay alive.”



The order came from a 15-year-old on a bicycle near a Chicago park in 2001: “Shoot him, shoot him.”

Benard McKinley, 16, obliged. And Abdo Serna-Ibarra, 23, never made his way to the soccer field.

McKinley was later arrested and charged as an adult with first degree murder for the killing of Serna-Ibarra. In 2004, Cook County jurors found him guilty.

The sentencing judge, Kenneth J. Wadas, went on to make an example of McKinley and his murder, condemning the young man to 100 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections — 50 years for the murder, and a consecutive 50 years for the fatal use of a firearm. The sentence was necessary to deter other criminals, Wadas said in court, and would enable others to play soccer with “one less Benard McKinley out there with a handgun blowing them away.”

With no chance of parole or early release, McKinley was doomed to either live to celebrate and surpass his 116th birthday, or grow old and die within the fortress of the state’s prison system.



After Juan Rodriguez tested positive for COVID-19 last week at Stateville Correctional Center.

He told his wife that guards moved him to a cell inside Stateville’s notorious F-House, which officials closed in 2016 citing health and safety concerns.

The water in the sink runs yellow-brown and Rodriguez was not given any cleaning supplies for the mold on the walls, his wife Dominika Rodriguez said. He used a bar of soap he had purchased at the prison commissary to clean it himself.

“COVID-19 is an upper respiratory illness, but they’re moving sick people to a cell house with mold?” Dominika Rodriguez said in an interview with Injustice Watch. “No human should be in there.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections reopened the controversial housing unit, known as the “roundhouse,” on May 5 and is now quarantining about 70 men at F-House who have either tested positive for COVID-19, are awaiting test results, or who work in the facility, according to a department spokeswoman.

Stateville is both the agency’s most crowded prison and the epicenter of its COVID-19 crisis.

The department reported that 150 inmates and 75 staff had tested positive for the virus as of Monday, more than at any other Illinois prison.

Twelve incarcerated people at Stateville have died from the virus.