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Corrections director grilled over prison safety, closures


(The Center Square) – The acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections took a grilling from legislators looking for information on prison closures, safety and more.

Latoya Hughes was nominated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to take over at the IDOC for $200,000 a year. She was appointed nearly a year ago. During a confirmation hearing Thursday, state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, asked questions about the trend he sees in moving around prisons and prison populations.

“With this administration, there’s been a noticeable trend to empty out facilities in central and southern Illinois and move inmates to other facilities. But then the administration claims these facilities haven’t been impacted and are still operational. I don’t know what’s going on there if there’s no inmates there,” said Plummer. “There are protocols in place for if the state tries to shut down facilities like this.”

There needs to be public hearings, Plummer said, including input from various stakeholders and impacted employees. He said the Pritzker administration is shutting facilities down and not going through the proper procedures.

“No community hearings,” Plummer said. “You guys gaslight the people of Illinois by pretending these facilities are still operational. You’re killing some of these areas in central and southern Illinois.”

Hughes said the inmate removal programs were created during COVID and that the actions in removing those inmates were based on staffing levels. The removal programs also came about because those facilities didn’t provide healthcare for the individuals in custody, according to Hughes.

“Staffing levels in those areas haven’t increased so we can’t move the programs back to those facilities. But that is why we did have conversations with [the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union] and we came to an agreement and we will not move forward in any direction to shutter those programs or anything else without having those community conversations,” said Hughes. “When we are able to return individuals in custody to those programs we will and if there’s no reason why we’re not able to, we will have those conversations.”

Plummer explained that these facilities don’t have the staffing because the IDOC took all the inmates from central and southern Illinois prisons.

For the Logan facility that could close while a new facility is built, some worry there could be a loss of 500 jobs. Pritzker this week said he doesn’t expect any job losses.

The safety of prison guards and inmates was also front and center during the confirmation hearing. Discussions included increasing review of inmate mail and other areas possible contraband could be smuggled in. Public safety was also discussed.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, complained that Republicans took too much time asking questions of Hughes.

“I am happy to know the members on the other side of the aisle all of sudden care about the conditions of the state prisons and I applaud you all because in the past you have always said, ‘lock em up and throw away the key,’” Hunter said. “You took up all of our time. Why didn’t you talk to this lady before we got here? You wasted all of our time.”

McClure and Plummer shouted back and said “this is our job.”