Pontiac Correctional Center

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Pontiac Correctional Center
Location 700 W Lincoln Street
Pontiac, Illinois
Status open
Security class maximum
Capacity 2298
Opened 1871
Managed by Illinois Department of Corrections

Pontiac Correctional Center, established in June 1871, is an Illinois Department of Corrections maximum security prison (Level 1) for adult males in Pontiac, Illinois. The prison also has a medium security unit that houses medium to minimum security inmates and is classified as Level 3. Until the 2011 abolition of the death penalty in Illinois,[1] the prison housed male death row inmates, but had no execution chamber. Inmates were executed at the Tamms Correctional Center. Although the capacity of the prison is 2172 it has an average daily population of approximately 2000 inmates.

In May 2008, Governor Rod Blagojevich’s administration proposed to shut down the Pontiac facility, which would phase out the prison between January and February 2009. The inmate population would be transferred to the Thomson facility, a newly built maximum security prison, which is also equipped to house segregated inmates. Thomson has since been sold to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Pontiac facility is one of the largest employers in the Livingston County community. Governor Pat Quinn cancelled plans to close Pontiac Correctional Center on March 12, 2009.[2][3]

History to 1931[edit]

The prison was originally a boys' reform school from 1872 to 1893, but was then established as the State Reformatory. What later became the administrative offices used to be the buildings of the reform school. Two cell houses were constructed., One was a 4-tier cell house holding 296 cells, each of which measured 8’3” x 7’x 8’. The other was 5-tiers housing 500 cells measuring 8’x5’x 8’. The cells had iron bars in the front and containing a cot or spring bed, a stool and locker. In 1929, there were 1,405 inmates and 57 guards, making the ratio approximately 1 guard to 25 inmates.[4] In 1931, an additional cell house with 440 cells on 5 tiers was built. In this cell house, there were two men to each 8’x10’x8’ cell sharing a bunk bed, a cabinet, a desk and outlet for a radio. With the new cell houses, the prison population grew to 2,504 inmates with 150 guards or approximately 1 guard per 17 inmates. The prison housed 2,504 inmates (1,959 white, 535 black, 10 other).[5]

Rules and Regulations[edit]

The inmates were allowed to smoke in their cells at specified times. Relatives were allowed to visit once a month on any day except Saturday afternoons, Sundays and holidays.[6] Twice a month, inmates were allowed to write letters: one to a friend and one to a parent. A married prisoner was permitted to write every week. The inmates could buy tobacco, candy and toiletries weekly and could receive newspapers and magazines from the publisher.[7]


Privileges were taken away for 10 to 30 days as the most common type of punishment. Inmates were put in certain confinement cells with nothing but a slice of bread to eat every morning for 3 to 8 days, for worse violations. This form of punishment has long since stopped.[8]

In present times, inmates receive discipline for receiving tickets (for violating laws or rules of the institution or department) in many forms. These include restriction on yard time, restrictions from audio visual items, restriction from purchasing commissary. Inmates may also be put on a 72-hour property restrictions for instances such as having unauthorized materials or contraband and assaulting staff or other inmates.


On April 23, 1973, a brawl broke out involving 100 inmates using homemade knives, cleaning utensils and metal trays as weapons in the mess hall at the correctional center. By the time tear gas was fired, two inmates were stabbed and killed. According to Time Magazine, this fight was due to the many gangs that had been sent to the prison from the Chicago streets.[9]

On July 22, 1978, one of the deadliest riots in Illinois prison history broke out involving over 1,000 inmates. The riot began around 9:45 in the morning when 600 prisoners were returning to the cell house on the north end of the prison from the recreational yard. Armed with shanks, prisoners attacked officers inside the cell house. According to investigators, prison gangs directed the attack to challenge Warden Thaddeus Pinkney. Soon after the local and state police arrived and fired eight rounds of tear gas into the prison yard. Prisoners set buildings on fire causing the other prisoners to get involved. After many hours, the troops got all inmates back into their cells. A lieutenant, William Thomas, and two correctional officers, Robert Conkle and Stanley Cole, were killed while three correctional officers, Danny Dill, Dale Walker and Sharon Pachet, were injured.[10]

Immediately a “deadlock” system was put into effect until October 16, 1978. Prisoners were not allowed to leave their cells for any reason. Their meals were brought to them; all recreational time and work assignments were cancelled. The prisoners were not allowed to shower until October; family visits were banned until October 14 and they were not allowed to make phone calls to their families until September 30. The officials of the prison began searching the prisoners for weapons on October 2 and ended October 13.[11]

A complaint from the prisoners went to the district court on August 31 stating the “deadlock” was taking longer than it was needed. The district judge took this into consideration, but then decided to wait until after the “shakedown” to make any decisions. After the shakedown, on November 3, the court ordered Pontiac Correctional Center to restore the family visitation hours and phone privileges just as they were before the riot, as well as the meals, exercise and work times. The court also required the prison to provide two hours of yard recreation a week to the prisoners.[11]

Because of this riot, the prison now allows only a few inmates to be moved at a time in a line, and as of 1997, prisoners in the maximum security unit are kept in their cell every hour of the day with exception of days they are allowed yard recreation, law library, showers, and visits.

More recently, with the reintroduction of general population to Pontiac Correctional Center, inmates not in segregation status are given more out of cell time and social time on rec yards, in the gym, and at dining times. Protective custody and inmates from the medium security unit are also able to obtain jobs within the prison ranging from cellhouse porter to lawn care to vehicle maintenance. In addition, inmates of all confinement statuses may participate in mental health and medical "groups". Pontiac CC also has church services and the protective custody unit has its own inmate choir.[12]

Recent Assaults[edit]

In January 2013, an officer working in the Protective Custody unit of Pontiac Correctional Center was attacked and severely injured by an inmate. The officer spent several days in hospital. The inmate was convicted on charges of aggravated battery and sentenced to 20 years in state prison. This sentence is running concurrent to the 85-year sentence the inmate received for armed robbery and murder in cook county.[citation needed]

In March 2015, officers received a tip that an inmate in the North Cellhouse had a homemade weapon in his cell that he intended to use on staff. The prisons Tectical Team was mobilized, dressed in protective gear, entered the inmates cell after the inmate refused to comply with orders to put on restraints and have his cell searched. When the team entered the inmates cell the inmate hid under his bed, and in the process of attempting to restrain him, stabbed 3 officers multiple times on the hands, arms, and legs. All officers were treated at outside hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.[13]

In the summer of 2016, an officer was an escorting an inmate to his new cell in the East Cellhouse of Pontiac Correctional Center. The inmate in question had just minutes early been released from segregation status to general population. When the officer went to key open the cell door to let the inmate in, the inmate attacked him. The officer was punched repeatedly in the face. Tower officers alerted other staff, and the inmate was subdued. The officer was taken to local hospital and treated for his injuries. As of February 2017, the officer, who has suffered brain injury from the incident, has yet to return to work.[citation needed]

On August 21, 2016, an inmate punched a correctional lieutenant, starting a fight involving six employees and five inmates that resulted in four correctional officers (2 male, 2 female)and two lieutenants (1 female, 1 male) being treated for scratches, bruises, joint injuries, and possible concussions. According to Joe Lewis, a correctional officer at the Pontiac facility, there was frequently other inmate violence towards employees, and that policies to keep workers safe had been ignored or substituted with ineffective practices. Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Nicole Wilson disputed Lewis' statements, saying "The events that led to this incident do not appear to be the result of a lack of policy or a breakdown in existing policies but rather a failure to follow workplace safety procedures already in place, DOC's investigation will include why procedures weren't followed and how future incidents can be prevented."[14][15] As of January 2017, the final injured staff member has returned to work. Through multiple errors on the states side, the inmates involved had in house department discipline dismissed. The Livingston County States attorney has chosen to pursue criminal charges against the inmates involved. Those inmates will begin arrangements on March 2017.[citation needed]

On Saturday February 11, 2017, an officer was attacked by an inmate in the Mental Health Unit at Pontiac Correctional Center. The inmate had recently been moved from Mental Health Segregation to Mental Health General Population. While escorting a line to the inmate dining room, the inmate who is mentally ill, turned and punched the officer in the face. The inmate bit and hit other staff as they attempted to restrain him. The officer was treated for injuries and released from a local hospital.[citation needed]

On Sunday February 12, 2017, less than 16 hours after the assault mentioned above, an inmate stabbed another in the side of the head/temple area. The institution had been placed on a level 4 lockdown following the previous nights incident. With disregard for the lockdown, staff was ordered to continue some normal movement, which included moving inmates to and from the property building to prepare for transfers. When the general population inmates were packing out, one inmate took the opportunity to stab an officer in the side of the head. The injured officer along with his lieutenant and two other officers managed to subdue the inmate while an emergency code was call. Responding staff removed both the inmate and the injured officer from the area. The officer was, thankfully, treated an released from local hospital. Following this incident, the facility was placed on a Level One Lockdown. The inmate in question had just recently received large cuts to his segregation time, and had only been in general population for around 9 days.[citation needed]

Proposed prison closing[edit]

In May 2008 the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, made a public announcement stating he wanted to close Pontiac Correctional Center by February 2009 and move about half the inmates to a prison in Thomson, Illinois.[16] Many citizens of Pontiac were against this plan fearing “570 jobs in this central Illinois town would be lost.” [17] The prison is the second largest employer in the Livingston County.[18] Citizens would gather together and hold rallies to get the support of the governor.[17] On September 15 there was a joint meeting in Chicago and Springfield where the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted. At this meeting 9 out of 12 people voted to keep open the prison. Although Governor Blagojevich would have made the final decision, he would have taken into consideration this vote, but would not be obligated to agree with them.[18] Employees of Pontiac Correctional Center filed a lawsuit on September 16 stating “the state does not have a right to close the facility because it has budgeted money to run the prison through June 2009” and “Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Illinois Department of Corrections cannot close the prison because funding was provided in the 2008-09 budget, which was passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by Blagojevich.” [16] On September 17, an independent commission of state lawmakers rejected to close the prison, which the Department of Corrections says will save money in next year’s budget.[18] On March 12, 2009, Governor Pat Quinn cancelled plans to close Pontiac Correctional Center.


Medium-Security Unit[edit]

This unit is classified as Level 3 and houses offenders that are medium to minimum security inmates.

Maximum-Security Unit[edit]

This unit is classified as Level 1 and contains offenders that need to be segregated and have limited privileges.

The maximum security unit also houses maximum security inmates in General Population status as well high aggression protective custody inmates.

Condemned Unit[edit]

Until the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois in 2011, this unit housed inmates that were sentenced to death.

The unit is now called Administrative Detention and houses the many former Tamms inmates.

Orientation Unit[edit]

Protective Custody Unit[edit]

The Pontiac Correctional Center is the state's primary housing facility for protective custody inmates. Some of these inmates are former death row offenders. The unit houses between 550 - 600 inmates.

South Mental Health Unit[edit]

This unit provides psychiatric and psychological mental health services for offenders that are sentenced to be within the correctional system for a longer period of time with a segregated status. These offenders are diagnosed as chronically mentally ill with diagnoses including schizophrenia, psychotic, bipolar or major affective disorder.

Notable Inmates[edit]

  • William Balfour - murdered entertainer Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother, and nephew.[19]
  • Drew Peterson - police sergeant and convicted murderer[20]
  • Frank Collin - leader of the National Socialist Party of America, convicted of child molestation[21]
  • Timothy Krajcir - convicted American serial killer[22]
  • Andrew Suh - After his sister Catherine revealed to him that her boyfriend Robert O'Dubaine stabbed their mother to death, Andrew shot and killed him. Suh was found guilty and sentenced to 100 years in prison. His prison ID number is B-72067. Andrew's sister was subsequently charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and bribery. She was sentenced to life in prison at Logan Correctional Center.
  • Keith Randulich - Serving 40 years for the murder of his young sister after stabbing her in the neck 30 times.


  1. ^ Smith, Matt."Illinois abolishes death penalty." CNN. March 9, 2011.
  2. ^ Colindres, Adriana (2008-05-05). "Administration wants to close Pontiac Correctional Center". GateHouse News Service. Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  3. ^ Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability
  4. ^ State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons, 1929.
  5. ^ State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons, 1931
  6. ^ State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons,1929.
  7. ^ State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons.
  8. ^ State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons, 1931.
  9. ^ "The Gang's All Here". Time. 27 April 1973. Retrieved 2 January 2009. 
  10. ^ "30 years later: Memories of Illinois' worst prison riot". The Pantagraph. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2009. 
  11. ^ a b [1]
  12. ^ "22". Pantagraph.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  13. ^ Writer, JOHN O'CONNOR AP Political. "3 Pontiac Correctional Center officers injured in inmate attack". The Southern. Retrieved 2017-02-13. 
  14. ^ Press, Associated. "Illinois prison on lockdown after inmates attack corrections officers". stltoday.com. Retrieved 2017-02-13. 
  15. ^ services, Tribune news. "Pontiac prison worker assaults started with a punch, union official says". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2017-02-13. 
  16. ^ a b "18". Pantagraph.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  17. ^ a b "Proposed Prison Closing Hits at the Heart of a Town". The New York Times. August 24, 2008. 
  18. ^ a b c "Topic Galleries". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  19. ^ Judge gives Balfour 3 life sentences, calls his soul 'barren'
  20. ^ Drew Peterson charged with attempted murder-for-hire of Illinois prosecutor
  21. ^ Steiger, Brad; Steiger, Sherry (2012). Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier (2nd ed.). Visible Ink Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-1578593682. In 1979 Collin’s ambition to lead a new Nazi America was thwarted when he was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison on child molestation charges. 
  22. ^ Serial killer gets 13 life terms

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°51′58″N 88°38′17″W / 40.86611°N 88.63806°W / 40.86611; -88.63806