Against a backdrop of national concern over the militarization of police, Brian Dolinar reports for Truthout that a judge has approved a 2015 lawsuit against 232 Illinois Department of Corrections officers to proceed to the discovery phase. As Dolinar writes, “less is known beyond prison walls about guards who regularly brutalize those incarcerated,” but the Illinois lawsuit “names a list of horrific abuses that includes strip searches, beatings and mass shakedowns of cells,” indicating how militarization of law enforcement has occurred inside prisons, as well.
Dolinar describes the development and increasing use of so-called Special Operations Response Teams (SORTs), also known as tactical or tac teams, in prisons across the nation since the 1971 prison rebellion at Attica in New York. His report focuses in particular on one such group, which has come to known as the “Orange Crush” in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).
The IDOC Orange Crush teams, Dolinar writes, “emerged out of the 1996 campaign to rid Illinois prisons of gangs like the Vice Lords and Latin Kings, which ran many illicit operations with the full cooperation of prison authorities.”
Officers called Orange Crush, because of the color of their uniforms, allegedly wear riot gear, including facemasks to conceal their identities. They use mace, and at some prisons officers allegedly force inmates to undergo what are known as “nuts to butts” searches, in which prisoners are forced to walk bent over at approximately a 90-degree angle with no space between them, according to former inmates. If a prisoner were to stand up during this procedure they could be beaten. Also according to inmate statements, during cell searches some officers would remove legal documents that prisoners intended to use in their appeals. Documents released during discovery in the trial have revealed that dozens of inmates have required medical treatment as a result of Orange Crush searches. As Dolinar reports, “The reason why the Orange Crush conducted the sweeps is still unclear.”
The lawsuit, filed by the Uptown People’s Law Center and Loevy & Loevy, a Chicago-based firm, seeks to expose the Orange Crush and those who ordered raids at four separate facilities in Spring 2014. After the IDOC sought to have the suit dismissed, District Judge Staci Yandle concluded that defendants “purposely concealed their identities to evade responsibility for their actions.”
As of March 27, 2017, beyond Brian Dolinar’s Truthout report, the alleged abuses by the IDOC Orange Crush and the resulting lawsuit have received only limited news coverage, with reports restricted to local sources such as the Belleville News-Democrat and the Chicago Defender.
Source: Brian Dolinar, “Orange Crush: The Rise of Tactical Teams in Prison” January 2, 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/38941-orange-crush-the-rise-of-tactical-teams-in-prison.
Student Researchers: Daniel Hayden (Citrus College) and Nicholas Duran (Citrus College)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)