SYCAMORE – Officials at the DeKalb County Jail said back-to-back violent incidents – a beating and a sexual assault – in May in different cell blocks do not point to institutional deficiencies.
Four county jail inmates were charged with aggravated battery and robbery in connection with an attack on a fifth inmate May 5. In a separate occurrence, an inmate was charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault and battery in connection with an incident May 11.
Fights within the jail are commonplace even after a $36 million expansion in 2018 to alleviate overcrowding, but sexual assaults are almost unheard of, the last having occurred in 1998, DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said.
“Obviously, one of our tasks is to maintain the safety of the inmates as well as the officers, as well as the public,” Scott said. “We do our best to avoid it, but it is a jail. We have situations that occur that, though we may try to prevent them, are sometimes unpreventable.”
The victim of the May 5 beating was not injured badly enough to require a hospital visit, and was immediately moved to a different cell block, police have said.
One officer for 200 cameras
Surveillance video obtained by the Daily Chronicle via a Freedom of Information Act request shows the fight in Cell Block B of the DeKalb County Jail on May 5. The video shows inmate Malik R. Jones punching another inmate in the head. Inmates Timothy T. Fulton, Adale Cross, and Gabriel A. Banks-Hollingsworth later join the attack after the victim falls to the ground. After about a minute, someone covers the surveillance camera, the video shows.
The victim can be seen banging on the glass to get the attention of corrections officers, who appear about
31/2 minutes after the attack behind the glass of the guard quarter. The officers do not step out from behind the glass, but talk with the attackers and the victim while the victim packs his belongings into a plastic tote.
The video obtained was about an hour long, and was the video used by the sheriff’s office for its investigation into the incident.
It was the obstructed view and not the initial attack that the officer monitoring the jail’s cameras noticed before notifying the two corrections officers on shift that evening in Facility 1, the old part of the jail that houses maximum security inmates, Klein said.
One person a shift watches the more than 200 cameras in the jail, but not every camera has the same importance, Klein said.
“There’s cameras you use to get people through doors that you may not be monitoring as often as the cell blocks,” Klein said.
Eric Schultz, director of government and public affairs for the American Correctional Association, said there is no standard outlining the maximum amount of cameras one person can effectively monitor.
According to Gary Klugiewicz, co-founder of the corrections consultant company Vistelar, such a standard does not exist because every facility is different and has its own needs. He added that cameras are not so much useful for preventing violent incidents as they are for finding out what happened after the fact.
“The whole point of a camera is you can’t watch the entire jail at one time, but you can get more information when you know there is an incident,” Klugiewicz said.
Corrections officers found out about the sexual assault three to four hours after the incident occurred May 11 in large part because the incident happened in a jail cell outside of the view of the surveillance camera in Cell Block E, Scott said. The victim was then taken to Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital for treatment after other inmates told corrections officers about what happened, he said.
Fights a growing trend
Reported fights within the jail in 2019 are on track to outpace incidents in recent years. Data collected from a Freedom of Information Act request shows there have been four cases of battery in the jail so far this year, an increase from two in 2018. There were four batteries each for the entire years of 2017 and 2016 and one in 2015.
Joyce Klein, jail Chief of Corrections, said the dip in 2018 may be the result of the expansion, which saw the addition of a minimum security facility with eight cell blocks and doubled the jail’s capacity, but as for the recent accelerated growth in fights, she blames a 20-year trend of keeping first-time offenders and those not charged with violent crimes out of jail while awaiting trial, leaving only those who are most prone to violence in the jail.
She said one or two inmates tend to be the source of much of the violence. One inmate in 2017 was responsible for nine of the 19 incidents of violence toward staff, up from one involving different inmates in 2016 and 2015 each. There were nine such incidents in 2018 and six so far in 2019.
“The people that we have in custody now in 2019 versus maybe the people we had in custody 20 years ago, it was more of a mixture,” Klein said. “The people who are staying in our jail are here because they didn’t feel comfortable letting them out, and we know that through bond reform, more people are getting out of jail or being released at the time of their first court appearance.”