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Ill. plans to tear down, replace 2 prisons in $1B upgrade

The state plans to rebuild two prisons, Stateville Correctional Center and Logan Correctional Center, after an outside review reported a year ago that both are nearly “inoperable” in their current condition

Stateville Correctional Center

Stateville Correctional Center in 2009. (Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Alex Garcia/TNS

By Jeremy Gorner and Rick Pearson
Chicago Tribune

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration said on Friday it plans to rebuild two Illinois prisons, including the nearly century-old Stateville Correctional Center just southwest of Chicago, as part of a nearly $1 billion project scheduled to be completed over the next three to five years.

The administration said it anticipates Stateville, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago in Crest Hill, will be temporarily closed and demolished with a new facility building on its grounds. The status of Logan Correctional Center in downstate Lincoln, about 30 miles northeast of Springfield, is still being worked out and state officials said the location of the new correctional center is being finalized.

The announcement comes nearly a year after an outside review of the upkeep for Stateville and Logan deemed the two facilities as being close to “inoperable.”

Pritzker’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes $900 million to demolish and rebuild the correctional centers and the administration estimates the construction costs at $805 million to $935 million.

Pritzker’s administration said it expects that once they’re completed, the rebuilt prisons will save the state an average of $34 million annually by lowering overtime, maintenance and utility costs.

“The capital funds dedicated to Stateville and Logan further demonstrate our commitment to continuing to rebuild and strengthen our state’s infrastructure,” Pritzker said in a statement. “These investments will allow staff to work in modern and safe facilities, ensure those who are incarcerated can safely serve out their sentences, and save taxpayers hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance costs from years of neglect.”

Officials have not said where inmates will be relocated during construction. Pritzker officials said IDOC “will coordinate closely with organized labor and the staff at these facilities, individuals in custody, and other stakeholders to ensure a smooth rebuilding process.

State documents note that “numerous facilities are approaching or surpassing a century in age and also have significant deferred maintenance needs. The condition of these facilities has reached a point where routine maintenance practices are no longer sufficient to address evolving challenges.”

In May 2021, the IDOC called for Stateville, which opened in March 1925, to convert from a maximum-security facility to a multilevel reentry facility for inmates returning to society. The plan was a reflection of not only the unmet and growing maintenance expenses for Stateville, but also of a sharply declining prison population as a result of criminal justice initiatives as well as COVID-19’s effect on reducing criminal prosecutions.

A state-contracted master plan for the state’s correctional facilities conducted by CGL Companies was released in May of last year and found that Stateville, at $286 million, had the highest level of deferred maintenance of the 27 prison sites that had been reviewed. Overall, deferred maintenance of IDOC facilities totaled $2.5 billion.

“In addition to the extremely poor conditions throughout the facility (peeling paint, leaking roofs) the facility’s 100 year old design is reflective of 1800s prison philosophy, with multitiered housing units. These units are poor for a maximum custody population, but even worse for a multi-custody re-entry mission,” the consultants said of the repurposing of Stateville.

“The units lack dayroom space or any adjacent program space. Cells are small and there is limited electrical connections resulting in extension cords run from cell to cell. Due to limited line-of-sight, an intensive level of staffing is necessary to adequately supervise these units. Maintaining a constant ambient temperature is nearly impossible from the lower tier to the upper tier.”

In addition, the consultant report said “shower facilities are poor” and create issues for complying with federal prison rape prevention standards, and that “overall, the facility can’t comply with” the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To transition Stateville into a reentry facility, the consultants said new housing units should be built that provide “dayroom space, ample cell size, and office space for counselors and support staff,” along with adjacent programs and recreation space. The consultants estimated the cost of 700 new beds at Stateville to be $72.4 million.

The consultants also said that, consistent with its new reentry mission, “we recommend vacant space at Stateville be renovated to develop a vocational village” to “provide both classroom and hands-on skills to the soon-to-be released population.” They estimated $32.6 million in costs.

“There are a number of significant improvements that must be undertaken to establish a positive environment for re-entry programming at Stateville. This includes improving living units and providing access to vocational and work-skill programs,” the consultants said.

Before Illinois did away with the death sentence, Stateville for years was the site of state executions. Inmates executed at Stateville include mass killer John Wayne Gacy. Inmates housed there included mass murderer Richard Speck, who died of a heart attack while imprisoned at the facility, and notorious thrill kill convicts Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Loeb was killed with a straight razor by another inmate in a shower room at Stateville.

Stateville took on additional inmates in the early 2000s when Gov. George Ryan shut down another historic prison, the 143-year-old Joliet Correctional Center. Some older portions of Stateville have already been phased out. In 2016, officials completed the shutdown of the prison’s F House, known as the Roundhouse and set apart by its central watchtower encircled by multiple floors of prisons.

The consultant’s master plan also assailed conditions at Logan, which opened in the 1870s as the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, and was repurposed from the Lincoln Mental Health Annex to a prison in 1977 and became a facility for women and transgendered inmates in 2013.

“Our review found the existing Logan Correctional Center to be inefficient, ineffective, and unsuitable for any population,” the consultants said.

“Most of the buildings in Logan, including most of (its) housing units, were built nearly a century ago as patient wards in a mental health institution. These units do not meet the needs of modern correctional practices, are not supportive of a rehabilitative environment and complicates the overall delivery of services,” the report said. “Additionally, the facility is fueled by a coal-fired plant that dates back to 1930. Support spaces were never designed to meet the unique needs of a female population.”

The consultants recommended “IDOC should find a more suitable location for housing its incarcerated women.”


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