Report: Locking Prison Cells Didn’t Injure Guards in Illinois

June 8, 2011

A newspaper’s ongoing investigation has found an expert report, commissioned by the state of Illinois, showed that locking and unlocking prison cells didn’t cause repetitive trauma injuries in guards.

The Belleville News-Democrat reported that the state continued to grant workers’ compensation claims to guards — ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 — despite the findings of the 2008 report.

The report, based on on-site inspection and measurements, was unsuccessfully used to challenge some claims brought by guards at Menard Correctional Center. Illinois law doesn’t require employees to prove that a work condition caused an injury to collect, only that it could have caused an injury.

The News-Democrat previously has reported that Menard prison staff claimed nearly $10 million since January 2008 through workers’ comp. Many claims were for carpal tunnel syndrome from locking and unlocking doors.

Workers’ compensation overhaul legislation passed recently by the Illinois Legislature limits payments for carpal tunnel syndrome.

The newspaper obtained the 17-page report through a Freedom of Information Act request. Midwest Rehabilitation Inc. of Springfield produced the report for Central Management Services, the state agency that handles workers’ comp claims. The state sent copies of the report to the Illinois Department of Corrections and the attorney general.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said the report didn’t make any recommendations for changes in procedures.

“Since the report determined that the injuries were not caused by IDOC workplace procedures, we did not institute any changes,” Elman told the newspaper.

Natalie Bauer, a spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said the report was circulated to assistant attorneys general who represent the public in workers’ comp cases brought by state workers. The findings were used to fight some claims from Menard guards, but they weren’t effective, Bauer said.

In March, Illinois brought in Dr. Anthony Sudekum, a St. Louis hand surgeon, to undertake a similar study. Sudekum’s conclusion: Menard guards’ duties do not cause repetitive trauma, but “could be a possible aggravating factor” for an existing injury. Sudekum’s report described prison duties performed at a “leisurely and unhurried pace” with all locking devices tested except one needing only slight force to operate.

Information from: Belleville News-Democrat

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