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Plan to rebuild Stateville, Logan prisons brings mixed reaction

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(The Center Square) – There are differing opinions about Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to shutter the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln and Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill in an effort to build updated facilities.

Pritzker made the announcement last week that he aims to use capital funds to demolish and rebuild the two facilities at a projected taxpayer cost of up to $935 million. The governor’s office said the investments over three to five years will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs after years of neglect.

“Long-term, the projects are expected to save the state an average of $34 million in annual operations savings, over the long term, by lowering overtime, maintenance, and utility costs on the facilities,” a statement from the governor’s office said.

Monday, Pritzker said the move is possible because there are fewer prisoners in the state’s system.

“It’s been decompressed, I would argue, and so there is the ability for us to move people to other facilities,” Pritzker said. “How that will take place, obviously there is some complexity to it.”

Prison watchdog group The John Howard Association praised the plan, saying it’s “long past time that Logan and Stateville be depopulated and demolished.”

“However, this announcement does not address the fact that the Illinois prisons are currently well under capacity, with close to 12,000 excess prison beds throughout the system; we can and should also permanently close some of our worst prisons,” the group said. “This makes good sense financially and morally.”

The John Howard Association provided examples of an inmate survey they conducted describing poor conditions at the two facilities.

The AFSCME union condemned Pritzker’s plan.

“The department did not seek or consider the input of frontline employees or the union in the development of this plan,” the union said. “While there is no question that state prisons are in dire need of tens of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance, the information released so far raises many more questions than it answers.”

Some of the questions the union raised were about where offenders, including women, would be relocated.

“Logan is one of only two facilities that house women and the only facility for medium- and maximum-security female offenders; placing this population at other facilities that currently house male offenders – or overcrowding the only other women’s facility – poses logistical and safety concerns,” the union said.

They also had concerns about potential impacts to prison workers.

Pritzker said the state will keep all prison guards on the job.

“They’ll be working either at Stateville as we’re building the new facility on that same site, or at another facility where prisoners would be moving to, and the same with Logan,” Pritzker said.

State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said the governor can’t be trusted that the site closures would be temporary.

“The Governor previously used the line of temporary closures when it came to both the DuQuion and Dixon Springs Structured Impact Programs in order to avoid the closure process laid out under the State Facilities Closure Act,” Bryant said in a statement. “To this day, neither site has been reopened despite line items within the budget … The Pritzker Administration doesn’t care about these facilities, their employees or even their residents. They only care about their own public perception.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections will work with the Capital Development Board and stakeholders to develop a timeline and next steps, Pritzker’s office said. Construction will not begin “until all requirements of the State Facilities Closure Act are met.”