Stateville may close as early as September under Pritzker’s prison plan

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By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD – Stateville Correctional Center could close as early as September under a plan laid out by Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration on Friday.

Top officials with the Illinois Department of Corrections testified in front of a key panel of state lawmakers. The 12 members on the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability face a mid-June deadline to make a recommendation on the governor’s plan to close and rebuild a pair of prisons in central Illinois and in Chicago’s south suburbs.

But no matter what the panel decides, the Pritzker administration can go ahead with its plans so long as money is built into the state’s next budget.

“I want everybody to understand that (any) recommendation that comes from this commission here is advisory,” COGFA Co-Chair Dave Koehler, a Democratic state senator from Peoria, said after 1 ½ hours of testimony on the matter in front of his panel Friday.

“Yes sir, I do understand that,” replied Mike Newman, the deputy director of AFSCME Council 31, the union that represents some 80,000 state workers – including most employees within the Department of Corrections.

Newman, along with several members of the panel, expressed strong reservations about Pritzker’s plan to close Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill and Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln.

The governor announced the plan in March, and late last month his administration provided more details on the plan, revealing Logan Correctional Center – one of only two women’s prisons in Illinois – may be rebuilt on the grounds of Stateville, which would expand the state’s current operations into a multi-functional campus.

Local elected officials have joined organized labor in pushing back against the plan for Logan CC, citing economic impact on the rural area north of Springfield.

Asked about that pushback this week, Pritzker said state and local officials should focus more on “attracting great new private sector jobs” like those in the new Ferrero Rocher factory in Bloomington, where the governor traveled Tuesday for a ribbon cutting.

“And I think that really is the future for most places across the state, to not rely upon a state-run facility that’s a prison,” he said. “That can’t be a great economic growth strategy for the area.”

The governor announced the prison closure plan in March, 10 months after the administration received a report it had commissioned on the deferred maintenance of state prisons.

The report detailed deteriorating buildings, compromised water supplies, infestations and all manner of recommended repairs and upgrades – including to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The total price tag to fully address those deficiencies would cost an estimated $2.5 billion to fully address, according to the report by Atlanta-based CGL Companies, a consulting firm that specializes in buildings and maintenance.

“The costly repairs needed to remedy all of the issues identified by the CGL report and the structural engineering survey still will not resolve the design deficiencies present in the 1920s structure,” IDOC Acting Director Latoya Hughes said of Stateville during testimony to the panel Friday.

Hughes and her deputies did not dispute lawmakers’ assertions that the agency is aiming to close Stateville in September, though they did acknowledge the five-year timeline to fully phase out the dilapidated prisons could be in flux.

Logan Correctional Center, meanwhile, would be kept open as long as possible, Hughes said, in order to accommodate both current inmates and staff.

When inmates are moved out of their current facilities – whenever that might be – IDOC will have to spend nearly $7 million to place them elsewhere, according to a report the agency filed recently.

“We want to be clear that the department will not reclassify the security level of individuals in custody,” Hughes told the panel Friday. “Rather, we will look at their medical, mental health, programmatic and educational needs, along with their security level, to identify a proper placement for them in a facility that security designation.”

AFSCME has pushed back on the plan since it was announced in March, and Friday was no different. Newman, the union’s deputy director, repeatedly cast doubt on IDOC’s internal estimates of both costs and jobs.

He threw cold water on the agency’s assurances that current prison employees would be guaranteed job transfers with minimal disruption to their lives, citing the long distances some may need to drive to a new facility.

“And even if there are vacancies at facilities like Sheridan or Pontiac, those are very likely too difficult a commute for Stateville employees, given especially that many are already traveling from Chicago and its suburbs, that most are frequently working overtime, which can make their workday as long as 16 hours,” he said.

Koehler told both IDOC and AFSCME representatives that he would be seeking an extension for convening a pair of legally mandated community hearings on the closures.

Under state law, COGFA would be required to organize those hearings by June – a nearly impossible task, Koehler said, given the General Assembly’s typical end-of-May adjournment for its spring legislative session.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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