At Menard Correctional Facility, it's not easy to tell the inmates from some of the guards. That's because a gaggle of the guards were committing acts that look a lot like an insurance scam.

According to an impressive series of investigative reports published in the Belleville News-Democrat, guards and other employees at Menard have filed more than 500 workers compensation claims in the last three years. With this outbreak of on-the-job injuries and a state agency blithely abetting them in processing the claims, the Menard guard gang has collected $10 million in benefits paid by Illinois taxpayers.

"At the Menard Correctional Center, one in every 10 guards has been awarded a recent taxpayer-paid settlement for repetitive trauma they say was caused by locking and unlocking cells," the News-Democrat reported in January. "And their boss, warden David Rednour, also has gotten a taxpayer-paid award -- $75,678 -- that he received in June when he was promoted to the top job at the maximum security lockup."

Just this week, the News-Democrat reported that the agency processing the claims "is challenging the state attorney general's order that it release the details tied to millions of dollars in settlements. The Central Management Services filed a lawsuit in Cook County to block the release of records sought by the Belleville News-Democrat. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has ordered the records be made public."

In addition to padding the wallets of suspiciously injured prison workers, Illinois taxpayers also get to foot the bill for the private Chicago law firm that Central Management Services has hired to help it stonewall demands for the release of public records related to the claims.

The best way to stop repetitive injury claims at the Menard Correctional Center may be to put some of the guards on the other side of the bars and let someone else lock and unlock the cell doors for them. Some crafty claims processors also could find themselves as candidates for a stretch in stir.

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