Behind the Gates at Menard with First Female Warden

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By Sam Jones
By Benjy Jeffords

RANDOLPH COUNTY-- The oldest and largest prison in Southern Illinois has a new leader. Kim Butler started as Warden at Menard in April. She's a 21-year veteran of IDOC, an SIU grad, and the first woman to run the prison.

Butler believes in a proactive approach, finding problems before they escalate. As we went behind the gates at Menard, it was immediately clear how important that is. With a ratio of about six inmates to one officer, structure is key.

"It's up to me to make sure everybody is safe within the walls,” Butler said.

Warden Butler's worked at Menard since 2012 and has seen it all.

“It's a facility with 3,700 inmates that are convicted of felonies so sometimes they act out. Some of them acted out prior to coming here. Some are gonna act out within the walls here,” she conceded.

She says the negative perception of Menard isn't true; that the inmates don't run this facility.

“What we've done up to this point seems to be working. We've reduced the amount of lockdowns we've been on, reducing the amount of weapons we're finding. Those are all positive trends,” added Butler.

Inmates are escorted by guards at all times, frisked at other times, often found walking in pairs.

“We've taken a more proactive stance in seeking out things that may be made into weapons,” she explained.

The prisoners are led through an area, called Front Street, as they move through daily routines. They get at least five hours every week in the outdoor yard, complete with phones and a track. Inmates are always under the watch of correctional officers like Major Chad Hasemeyer.

“Our biggest percentage is murder for our charges in here, so yes our awareness is gonna be a lot higher here than some other institutions,” Hasemeyer said.

That awareness translates into caution; even the guards are shadowed by an armed officer when they walk by the cells.

“We do have bad times at this facility but we have more good times,” said Butler.

The prison was on lockdown for almost two weeks last month. Butler says the length was due to searches, which yielded 13 shanks and hundreds of cartons of homemade alcohol.

“That was a very, very thorough search of the facility and we left no stone unturned so it stands to reason we might find a little more than we normally would,” she explained.

Butler says she doesn't expect to make many major changes to operations.

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