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‘We don’t really know what we’re voting on,’ top Dem says of Pritzker’s prison plan

‘We don’t really know what we’re voting on,’ top Dem says of Pritzker’s prison plan

One night before advisory vote, next steps for Logan Correctional Center remain uncertain

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

LINCOLN – On the eve of a scheduled vote to advise Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration on plans to close and rebuild a pair of dilapidated state prisons, hundreds filed into a junior high school gymnasium Thursday evening clad in matching green T-shirts.

Printed on the shirts was a message for the governor: “Logan CC belongs in Logan County” – a protest against the Illinois Department of Corrections’ indications that it may seek to rebuild Logan Correctional Center 140 miles northeast of its decadeslong home in Lincoln.

Thursday’s was the second in a pair of hearings convened this week in the host communities for the prisons. A similar scene played out on Tuesday in Joliet, when hundreds sat for hours in a hotel conference room to discuss the impact of plans to raze and rebuild Stateville Correctional Center in nearby Crest Hill.

Read more: Communities, commission push Pritzker admin for more prison plan details | Stateville may close as early as September under Pritzker’s prison plan

Since Pritzker’s office initially announced the administration’s intent to demolish and rebuild the prisons in March, IDOC has given few additional details on plans, which officials say are still taking shape. But a late April filing to the legislative body that oversees state finances and facility closures revealed the administration is leaning toward rebuilding Logan on the same grounds as Stateville in Chicago’s far southwest suburbs.

Attendees of Thursday evening’s hearing took the opportunity to make their position on that idea clear, frequently mentioning the potential economic impact of losing the prison in the same breath as recent closures of two private colleges in Lincoln.

“Governor Pritzker, if you move forward with your plan, you will be the assassin that kills Lincoln, Illinois,” retired Logan staffer Shannon Kelly said to thunderous applause from the audience.


Logan Correctional Center

Logan Correctional Center is pictured in Lincoln. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Andrew Campbell)


 

'We don’t really know what we’re voting on'

Kelly noted it was his second time testifying in front of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability; he’d done the same 13 years ago as president of the local bargaining unit of Illinois’ largest public employee union. 

In 2011, Kelly and his colleagues fought then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to shutter Logan as part of a multi-facility closure proposal. Although Quinn’s administration did ultimately shut down several state-run developmental centers, mental hospitals and two prisons, Logan was spared.

At the time, the 12 members of COGFA repeatedly voted to reject Quinn’s plans for facility closures – including Logan. But then, as now, those votes were merely advisory.

In the current battle over Pritzker’s plans to demolish and rebuild Logan and Stateville, however, most of COGFA’s membership has neglected to even participate in the limited oversight process between this week’s two hearings and a third last month.

The panel’s Democratic co-chair, Sen. Dave Koehler of Peoria, told reporters after Thursday’s meeting that he didn’t believe enough of COGFA’s 12 members were even planning on being in Springfield Friday morning for the scheduled advisory vote.

Without a quorum, the panel can’t take official action. But even if COGFA did vote, Koehler said the Pritzker administration’s current plans for Stateville and Logan are so vague that “We don’t really know what we’re voting on.”

In place of a vote, Koehler said he planned to make a motion to urge the governor and IDOC to work with the local communities and employees of Stateville and Logan as plans for closure and rebuild proceed. He noted that his current understanding of the administration’s work with local stakeholders “doesn't appear to be to be too positive at this point.”

“So that's my recommendation – is that you make sure that...you're collaborative in the process because just dropping this on folks is not a good way to proceed,” Koehler said.

The state budget that goes into effect next month at the start of the new fiscal year includes $900 million for the raze-and-rebuild projects, though tearing down and rebuilding both Logan and Stateville are multi-year undertakings.

A 2023 report IDOC commissioned to examine the state of its facilities found Logan and Stateville in a states of disrepair that could only be fixed by millions of dollars in maintenance the agency has neglected for years.

Top IDOC official Jared Brunk testified that the estimated cost of fixing the critical infrastructure at Logan was $130 million, though that figure increases by about 10 percent annually as maintenance piles up.

Building a new facility, he said, will cost between $275 million and $425 million, but he stressed that the cost of a new build and maintenance was not an “apples to apples comparison.”

 

Employee worries

Signs supporting Logan’s continued operation in Lincoln dotted lawns within a several-block radius of the city’s downtown area, while the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees Local 2073 organized a march to Lincoln Junior High School ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

The union’s vice president, Craig Linne, told Capitol News Illinois that morale among his colleagues at Logan has been “kind of low” since Pritzker’s announcement about the closures in March. Linne, a correctional sergeant at the prison, warned that the Department of Corrections will lose hundreds of specially trained Logan employees who’d rather pivot careers than take IDOC’s transfer opportunities – even though department officials say they plan to keep the prison open as long as they can during the rebuild process.


Logan meeting

Hundreds of prison employees and community members attend a legislative hearing in Lincoln on Thursday, June 13 where the closure and potential relocation of Logan Correctional Center 140 miles northeast to the Chicagoland area was hotly contested. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Hannah Meisel)


IDOC Acting Director Latoya Hughes testified Thursday that the agency has 850 positions available at other facilities within 90 miles of Logan and promised that employees who choose not to transfer facilities will have guaranteed employment in other areas of state government.

But that promise rang hollow to Lori Ward, a Logan employee who said she was five years away from retirement and in all likelihood wouldn’t be able to find a comparable job that matched her current seniority. She estimated that she’d essentially be demoted with a $2,400-per-month cut in her pay in addition to having to drive hundreds of miles each week to a new job.

"We have worked and done our time here and we deserve to get to stay,” Ward told the panel. “Expecting us to keep Logan running while knowing that no one cares for the next three to five years, or however long, is just unfair and it's just wrong.”

According to Linne’s estimates, 25 to 30 percent of Logan’s employees wouldn’t find a job with a comparable title in nearby IDOC facilities.

“So they would have to take a reduction (in pay) or they would have to move,” he said.

Moving was out of the question for many Logan employees who testified Thursday, including correctional officer Marrisa Hayes, whose oldest daughter has a rare form of cancer and has been treated at the children’s hospital in Peoria for years. 

Hayes’ husband is also a correctional officer at Logan and is a primary caretaker for his grandfather who has brain cancer, she said. 

“We cannot afford to uproot our lives and leave our family behind should the facility move to northern Illinois,” Hayes said.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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Hannah  Meisel

Hannah MeiselHannah Meisel

Hannah has been covering Illinois government and politics since 2014, and since then has worked for a variety of outlets from NPR affiliate stations to a startup newsletter. She’s a graduate of both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the U of I’s Springfield campus, where she received an M.A. through the Public Affairs Reporting program and got her start reporting in the Capitol.

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