Future of Logan Correctional Center uncertain

Governor says Lincoln can't rely on prison for economic development

click to enlarge Future of Logan Correctional Center uncertain
The Illinois Department of Corrections is considering relocating the state's main prison for women to Will County and building a new facility near Stateville Correctional Center. That would lead to the closure of Logan Correction Center in Lincoln.

Gov. JB Pritzker says it's time to look beyond prisons when promoting economic development in rural Illinois, but that's little consolation for the 500 workers at Logan Correctional Center who fear losing their jobs.

The state is eying shutting down the prison in Lincoln and rebuilding Illinois' main prison for women elsewhere.

One possibility under consideration is rebuilding the women's prison in Will County near Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison for men, in Crest Hill.

The price tag for doing this would be about $935 million, Alex Gough, a spokesman for Pritzker said.

State Rep. Bill Hauter, R-Morton, said this estimate likely understates the cost of building a prison in the Chicago suburbs.

"The labor is going to be more expensive, the construction costs will be more," he said.

He noted that Lincoln, a city of 13,300, already is facing economic headwinds with both Lincoln Christian University and Lincoln College shutting down in the last two years. Losing another major employer would devastate the community, he said.

"Economic activity will be reduced if they move the prison away from Logan County. And in Will County, at Stateville, it's probably not even a blip. People up there don't even know that this is an issue. They could care less," Hauter said.

While in Bloomington on May 7, Pritzker told reporters, "We should all be paying attention to how can we get more economic development into the area, into Logan County and make sure that in Lincoln in particular, that we're attracting great new private sector jobs. I don't know where the facility will end up."

State. Sen. Sally Turner, R-Lincoln, said she is working to make sure the prison is rebuilt in her community.

"We want them to continue at Logan Correctional Center there in Lincoln, Illinois," she said. "One of our big things to consider is that 54% of individuals incarcerated are from downstate. So, this is a central area for their loved ones – their family, their friends – to be able to visit the folks in those facilities. And that's really important for them to grow and to get better in the situation that they're in."

One thing that there is little disagreement over is that Logan Correctional Center is in a grave state of disrepair. More than $100 million in needed maintenance and renovations have been put off at the prison, Hauter said.

Gary Davis, who leads a volunteer ministry at the prison and recently stepped down as the head of the Logan County Democratic Party, said the conditions are abysmal.

"The living conditions are awful. It's just not a clean place, and there's a lot of unnecessary disease, a lot of mental illness that doesn't get treated," he said. "The place is a mess and it needs to be closed. The people that live there are being subjected to inhumane living conditions. There have been all kinds of organizations that have come out there and certified that."

While he personally doesn't want to see the prison continue in Lincoln, most of the inmates he has spoken with want to keep it in that small town, Davis said.

"I have yet to find somebody that wants to see it rebuilt in the Joliet area or near Chicago. This is really odd. And it runs counter to much of what I've been told," Davis said. "These COs – the guards – they're typical Midwestern nice guys. They're just decent people. I think for some of these prisoners, it's the first time they've ever interacted with normal, nice people."

Despite this, Davis said economic development is a poor reason for maintaining the women's prison in Lincoln.

"It's too bad they're going to lose their jobs, but I have a hard time defending the organization's continued existence, given the fact that it's contributing virtually nothing to the state. It's sucking up about $70 million a year. ... I could think of a lot better ways to spend $70 million than to (have it) go into a spot that has 40-year-old or 80-year-old buildings that are falling apart and that are unhealthy and condemned by all kinds of authority figures – just to give these guys and gals a job."

During his Bloomington press availability, Pritzker also said, "I'm excited about the prospect of attracting new businesses to the area just like we're doing here in Bloomington. 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. That can't be a great economic growth strategy for the area."

Turner does not fully share the governor's view.

"It just feels like this is kicking us when we're down," she said.

Opportunity for public discussion, comment

A town hall event will be held via Facebook Live at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, to give the public more information about a proposal to close the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln. Participants will be instructed on how to submit public comments to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which will hold hearings at the end of May.

The town hall will be streamed on Sen. Sally Turner’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/SenatorSallyTurner and will also include Rep. Bill Hauter, R-Morton; Logan County Board Chairman Emily Davenport; Lincoln Economic Advancement & Development CEO Andrea Runge and Lincoln Mayor Tracy Welch.

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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