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SPRINGFIELD -- The escape of a prisoner from the East Moline Correctional Center serves as a warning about the dangers of overcrowding and understaffing within the state's prison system, union officials and prison watchdog groups said Friday.

Inmate Doss Kuykendall, 43, was captured in Whiteside County about 11 a.m. Friday, about 25 miles from where he escaped Wednesday afternoon. He is serving a seven year sentence for burglary.

The minimum-security lock-up was designed to hold 688 inmates but actually houses 1,242 inmates in the wake of Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to halt a controversial early prisoner release program last year. The governor now is in the process of trying to close a state prison in Logan County, which would pump more inmates into already overcrowded facilities.

"This escape is clearly a red flag of warning that risks are heightened when crowding and staffing concerns are not addressed," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. "This incident shows that prison security is obviously not just a concern for prison employees, but for the safety of the public."

John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, has said for months that overcrowding is taking a toll on the prison system. In a recent report, the Chicago-based group said conditions at the maximum-security Menard Correctional Center have led to an increase in inmate assaults against prison guards. The group also reported questionable living conditions for inmates at prisons in Vandalia and Taylorville.

"I do think this is a really big deal," said Maki. "When facilities are overcrowded and understaffed, security is going to break down."

The Illinois Department of Corrections reports that East Moline has 6.6 inmates for each guard. The statewide average staffing ratio for all facilities is 6.1 inmates for each guard.

Because of overcrowding, inmates at minimum-security facilities are already bunking in gymnasiums and other non-celled areas of the prisons. Quinn's proposed closure of Logan Correctional Center will trigger similar crowding within medium-security faciltiies.

Lincoln Mayor Keith Snyder said Corrections' officials are already warning that closing the facility will result in "operational challenges" at other facilities.

"With this incident happening, it again demostrates the problems that come with overcrowding," said Snyder.

Successful escapes from state prisons are relatively rare.Corrections' spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said a prisoner left the premises at a work camp in Dixon Springs about six weeks ago. But, the inmate was quickly apprehended. In 1990, six men escaped from the former Joliet Correctional Center -- one of four maximum-security institutions operating at the time. In 2009, a prisoner at Pontiac Correctional Center subdued a guard and stole his uniform, but was unable to breach the prison walls before getting caught.

In a statement, Elman did not directly address the overcrowding and security concerns.

But, she noted, "The Illinois Department of Corrections follows strict national standards for its safety and security. IDOC's top priority is the safety and security of the public, staff and inmates at all of our facilities."

State Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, said prison workers at East Moline have expressed concern about overcrowding and the need for an early release program to help reduce the number of inmates within the prison system.

But, Morthland said he is not ready to tie the escape in East Moline to the politics in Springfield.

"If anything bad happens, everyone blames it on overcrowding. I can't agree with that analysis without knowing more about the situation that led up to the escape," Morthland said.

(Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-782-4043)

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