CHICAGO (CBS) — CBS 2 recently told you about a downstate prisoner, who was handcuffed and beaten to death by prison guards in 2018.
The beating took place in the shadows — not captured on surveillance video because it happened in a notorious “blind spot.”READ MORE: Moderna Says Third COVID Vaccine Booster Shot ‘Likely To Be Necessary’ This Fall Due To Delta Variant
Now a prison watchdog group tells CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey that the case highlights the need for more oversight and that this beating is just the tip of the iceberg.
COVID-19 created more barriers for prison watchdogs. And while the Illinois Department of Corrections said it fixed the notorious blind spot — advocates say there’s much more work to be done.
“These are people who don’t have access to the outside world to sound alarm bells when needed. And that’s really troubling,” said Jennifer Vollen-Katz, of the John Howard Association, a 120-year-old prison watchdog group.
65-year-old Larry Earvin couldn’t sound any alarm bells in 2018 when he was “disciplined” by correctional staff at Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling—-out of sight of the facility’s cameras.
Last month, the Chicago native’s son said he wanted answers for his father’s brutal death.
“I don’t know how they could treat a human like that, let alone a 65 year old who couldn’t defend themselves, handcuffed,” said Larry Pippion. “Who does that? You don’t even treat animals like that.”READ MORE: Boy, 15, Charged In Hyde Park Carjacking, Chinatown Armed Robbery
Earvin is one of several victims of beatings in the “blind spot,” which the Illinois Department of Corrections said was corrected after his death with the installation of 79 new cameras at Western Illinois Correctional Center over the last year.
But Vollen-Katz, said cameras are far from enough.
“The question is: Who’s monitoring the footage? Who’s looking at the cameras? Who’s looking at the footage and what are they doing with the information?
She said their boots-on-the-ground prison monitoring was shut down by COVID. When they asked the corrections department to allow random, remote screenings of surveillance video, Vollen-Katz said, “We were told that … it was not something they would allow us to do.” No technical reason was given.
In December 2019, three Illinois prison guards were indicted in connection with Larry Earvin’s death. One pleaded guilty, the other two are awaiting trial. But his family believes so much more could have been done to prevent his death.
Vollen-Katz said case shows how crucial a third party monitor–outside the department of corrections–really is.
“I think that this case highlights the need for increased transparency and oversight. How people are treated in prison is something we should all be concerned about. These are all human beings.”MORE NEWS: Stevenson Expressway Ramp To Tri-State Tollway Closed After Semi Crashes, Ends Up On Its Side
The corrections department said it hired a chief inspector to provide oversight. The John Howard Association says they appreciate the hire but they believe it’s a conflict of interest and would like to see a monitor that’s not part of the state agency that he or she oversees.