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Illinois officials are cutting costs by putting violent prisoners in less-secure prisons, a driver behind a 51 percent increase in inmate assaults over two years, a state employee union said Thursday.

In other news, the Democratic field for governor just got smaller; the city's Public Works director is retiring after a decade-plus; President Trump signs an executive order on health care; and two officers have been relieved of their duties on the USS McCain after an August collision near Singapore killed 10 U.S. sailors and injured five more, including Petty Officer 3rd Class Logan Palmer, 23, of Harristown.

Union: Prison-inmate assaults on officers up 51 percent

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 asserted that Gov. Bruce Rauner's campaign to reduce the prison population has meant an 18 percent drop in maximum-security prison populations.

At the same time, assaults on corrections officers jumped from 541 in 2015 to a projected 819 this year, AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch, surrounded by correctional officers who had suffered or witness attacks, said at a Springfield news conference.

"Is it because ... prisons with lower security levels have lower staffing levels and cost less to operate and that far too little attention is paid to the human cost of increasing violence against staff?" Lynch asked, noting "the recurring pain, the family turmoil, the physical trauma and even the permanent disability that can occur when staff is subject to violent assaults."

Illinois Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin, meeting later with reporters, rejected AFSCME declarations that management "doesn't care" and dismissed the AFSCME's claims of "budget-driven security re-classification."

He said the department is changing its classification system for inmates to replace a 30-year-old model, acknowledging that "we have a lot of population in the wrong place."

"Staff said, 'We need to know more about the offender,' and we're trying to get them that information. Staff are the best people to deal with the offenders," Baldwin said.

AFSCME counted assaults by calendar year — 541 in 2015 and 819 projected this year, based on year-to-date data. Baldwin said the department counted a 27 percent increase over fiscal years — 566 in the year that ended June 30, 2015, to 761 in the year that ended last June 30.

Trump signs executive order on health care

Frustrated by health care failures in Congress, President Donald Trump directed his administration Thursday to rewrite some federal insurance rules as a beginning of renewed efforts to undermine "Obamacare," the program he's promised to kill.

"With these actions, we are moving toward lower costs and more options in the health care market," Trump said before signing his directive in the Oval Office. Trump said he will continue to pressure Congress to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Some experts said the White House plan could undermine coverage on the ACA's insurance marketplaces, particularly for people with health problems. That would happen if healthy people flock to lower-cost plans with limited benefits.

Other experts said Trump's proposals appear to be modest and would have limited impact.

Pawar drops out of governor's race

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar says he's ending his bid for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor because he doesn't have enough money.

Pawar, who appeared at a Decatur town hall last week, said in an email to supporters Thursday morning that he doesn't have the resources to mount a successful statewide campaign. He says his only choices are to take on more personal debt or cut staff, both of which he says he won't do. Pawar entered the race saying he would provide "a progressive counter-balance to the governor's agenda."

Pawar was among more than a half dozen Democrats running in the March primary for a chance to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Pawar said he wouldn't be endorsing any of the other candidates at this time. His running mate was Tyrone Coleman, mayor of the southern Illinois city of Cairo.

Marley to retire from city

Rick Marley has a simple trick for living he likes to impart on people — a "life hack" in today's parlance: "Do those big events on memorable days so you can remember the anniversary."

He married his wife Peg on New Year's Day, and now Marley, 67, will be retiring from his post as the city's public works director on Oct. 16, the same day as her birthday.

In his 10 1/2-year tenure working for Decatur, Marley oversaw a surge in public infrastructure projects at a time when city officials looked toward reinvesting in aspects of the city that had languished — the sewer system, and perhaps a bit more romantic and visible, the downtown streetscape.

The public works department handles the major engineering and maintenance needs for the city's infrastructure. That includes snow and ice removal, parking and paving streets owned by the city, sewers and drainage systems, and city-owned trees. Together it amounts to an operations budget north of $10 million a year with a staff of 72.

Navy officers relieved of duties

The commander and executive officer of the USS John S. McCain have been relieved of their duties due to lost confidence after the warship and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August.

The cause of the Aug. 21 collision is still under investigation but the U.S. Navy described it as preventable. The Navy statement said Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez and the ship's executive officer, Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, were reassigned Wednesday.

The crash killed 10 U.S. sailors and injured five more, including Petty Officer 3rd Class Logan Palmer, 23, of Harristown. It was one of several accidents in the region that raised concern over the safety and operational effectiveness of U.S. naval vessels.

Some Navy officials have cited strains from frequent extended deployments, delayed maintenance and nearly a decade of budget constraints and reductions in resources devoted to training as factors.


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