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Ill. plans to consolidate women’s prisons in $1B rebuilding effort

The IDOC recommendation comes a little more than a month after the governor unveiled a plan to rebuild Stateville and Logan correctional centers


Phones at Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln. Illinois, on June 8, 2022. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune)

Erin Hooley/TNS

By Olivia Olander, Jeremy Gorner
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A downstate prison for women would be moved onto the same site as Stateville Correctional Center as part of a plan to rebuild both facilities, according to a proposal the Illinois Department of Corrections has submitted to state commission.

The recommendation from IDOC comes a little more than a month after Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled a plan to rebuild Stateville and Logan correctional centers, citing the age and deteriorating condition of the facilities. The governor said the project would cost close to $1 billion, while offering few other details.

The proposal to move Logan from its longtime location in Lincoln, about 30 miles northeast of Springfield, to the Stateville property in Crest Hill, near Joliet, was included in a report IDOC provided to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability on Friday, part of a lengthy facilities closure process mandated by the state.

IDOC is asking for $161 million in fiscal year 2025 for the project at Stateville and nearly $80 million for Logan. The transition of incarcerated people and staff will cost about $7 million across both facilities, IDOC said. The proposal would help the state avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs, the agency said.

Those expenditures are part of the state budget that’s now before the General Assembly. The specific IDOC recommendations will be subject to public hearings.

Speaking at an unrelated event Monday, Pritzker reiterated his position that deferred maintenance at the prisons has made a total rebuild the best choice.

“Unfortunately, over many years the state has neglected to do anything about the conditions in these prisons,” Pritzker said. “We’re stepping up and actually making a proposal and putting money forward to do the right thing.”

In making its recommendation, IDOC said moving Logan to the Stateville site would provide a better geographical balance for women’s prisons in the state “by providing a northern facility to pair with” Decatur Correctional Center for women, which is only about 36 miles from Logan’s location in Lincoln.

In rebuilding Logan, IDOC is also looking to create a facility that is “smaller in footprint, has increased access to essential support services, as well as one that provides a humane space for incarcerated individuals,” the recommendations said. The rebuild could take up to five years, IDOC said.

Stateville, a maximum security facility, would be remodeled into a multi-security level facility with enhanced programming for incarcerated people and additional space for “out-of-cell time.” It would have a greater focus on reentry and rehabilitation, IDOC said.

There’s no intent “to repurpose or reuse the current Logan” facility, the department said. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the statewide economic development organization Intersect Illinois would both become involved to “identify future economic development potential” at the current Logan property if the women’s prison ultimately moves to the site of Stateville, IDOC said.

In its report, IDOC said Logan employees could be relocated to anticipated department openings within a 90-mile radius of their current workplace. Those options could include Lincoln Correctional Center, next door to Logan, or Pontiac Correctional Center, which is 77 miles away, the department said.

Stateville employees could also be relocated to a Stateville’s nearby reception center or other IDOC facilities within 65 miles, the department said.

The IDOC recommendations sent Friday maintain that no employees are expected to lose their jobs in the process unless they voluntarily choose a layoff. More than 450 people are staffed at Logan Correctional Center and 939 are employed at Stateville, IDOC said.

The union representing prison employees, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, could support constructing a new facility adjacent to an existing one, but the plan outlined Friday “lacks specificity or any persuasive argument for relocation,” spokesman Anders Lindall said Monday.

Lindall also repeated the union’s earlier concerns about upheaval for workers as the prisons are shut down and rebuilt.

“We’re more concerned than ever that their proposal is ill-conceived and could cause years of upheaval for individuals in custody and correctional employees alike,” Lindall said.

The governor’s office in March responded by saying the union’s concerns were “unusual” given its “continued demands to increase the safety and security of the work environment” of its members.

An outside review a year ago found that both prisons were nearly “inoperable” in their current condition. IDOC’s report noted that Logan runs on Depression-era coal power, and that nearly 1,000 of its beds “were built more than 90 years ago for a mental health population.” It would require some $116 million in deferred maintenance, including converting the entire facility to clean energy, just to remain operational in the long term, IDOC said.

At Stateville, based “upon the environmental assessment, the majority of the buildings are likely to include asbestos, lead based paint, and universal wastes/hazardous material,” the department said. The facility would be demolished and rebuilt, IDOC said.

Republican state Rep. William Hauter of Morton, whose district includes Logan, said Monday that lawmakers weren’t given sufficient opportunity to form opposition to the decision to move the women’s prison.

Hauter said he has had virtual meetings on the issue with IDOC and the governor’s office, but that a planned in-person meeting to lay out the case for keeping Logan in Lincoln is scheduled for later this week, days after the state’s preferred plans to move Logan were posted publicly.

Shutting down Logan would be another blow for the area after the closure of Lincoln College and impending shutdown of Lincoln Christian University, he said. Plans are in motion to reuse the Lincoln Developmental Center, a compound for developmentally disabled adults that was closed years ago, as a juvenile justice facility. But right now, the site remains an eyesore and a “visual empty promise,” Hauter said.

“It’s almost like they’re emptying out our downstate communities of promises that were made and then not kept,” Hauter said.

Pritzker on Monday said that the state would listen to community concerns during the upcoming hearing process.

State Sen. Rachel Ventura, a Joliet Democrat whose district covers Stateville, indicated support for the plan, saying the area around the men’s prison offers more resources, such as educational services and job training, that would be beneficial for Logan’s prison population. She pointed to five colleges or universities that work with people incarcerated in Stateville.

While acknowledging that issues such as understanding how many prison workers and incarcerated people would have to be moved farther from their families need to be addressed, Ventura said putting the facilities on the same plot of land in her district makes sense.

“I think if they’re going to build Logan next to Stateville, that gives us the most flexibility to build one whole prison first, move people over, demolish the second one and then build a second prison,” Ventura said.

Prison monitors such as John Howard Association Executive Director Jennifer Vollen-Katz have questioned why the prisons need to be rebuilt at all, given shrinking prison populations in recent years.

Vollen-Katz last week said she believes the push to rebuild rather than consider closing the facilities stems from politics — specifically that prisons can be a major source of jobs for surrounding towns. While the facilities in some cases may “be the economic lifeline of a community,” that can’t be the only factor considered in keeping them open, she said.

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