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Possible Prison Closing Outrages Community

Submitted on Tue, 03/25/2008 – 20:16.

Community members in Crest Hill are outraged at Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plan to close a portion of Statesville prison, but one senator says the prison will not close if the Department of Corrections chooses not to comply with legislative act.

“It’s incredulous that the department thinks they don’t have to comply with the act,” said state Sen. A.J. Wilhelmi (D-Crest Hill).

Sen. Wilhelmi said the Department of Corrections did not consult with him or community members before making their decision to close down a portion of the Statesville Correctional Facility, at a cost of 406 jobs.

“They want to slip this through and it’s not going to happen. There will be a full blown hearing if it does,” said Wilhelmi.

The Department of Corrections remains undecided on where they stand with the act.

“As of last week we took the position to not comply with the statute, but now we are reviewing it,” said Januari Smith, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Smith said they were undecided because the 406 jobs will not be eliminated, but will be relocated.

“There will be possible positions available at Pontiac, Dewitt and Menard,” said Derek Schnapp, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections. New staff will also be added to Thomson Correctional Center, which will fully open this year and have an additional 365 new positions.

Schnapp said the decision to close Statesville would cost less than the cost to renovate, estimated at $58 million. He also said the closing will provide the funding needed to continue opening the new Thomson Correctional Center, located near the Illinois and Iowa border.

The proposed State Facilities Closure Act requires the department file a report that details how the closing might economically affect the community’s infrastructure. It also requires it to comply with the recommendations from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a bipartisan committee that reviews the report and either votes in favor of the closing or opposes it.

The residents in Crest Hill say they oppose the decision and the Department of Corrections did not include them or consult with them.

City Administrator John Tomasoski said Statesville is their largest employer, and the Crest Hill City Council passed a resolution opposing the closing.

“There can be negative publicity, having a prison in your community. But you develop a relationship with it and part of its revenue and identity and now it’s being taken away,” said Tomasoski.

Anders Lindall , public affairs director for the American Federation of State, County Employees Council 31, said his union strongly opposes any action to close Statesville and the issue is undocumented.

“The Governor’s budget, speech and budget book have no mention of Statesville closing,” said Lindall. “This is coming from words, not budget or local legislation.”

Wilhelmi says the decision was not bounced off him and there are many reasons so many people oppose it.

For one thing, the community has spent millions of dollars in renovations for Statesville in on electrical, sewage, water, doors and locks, said Wilhelmi.

“We can’t recapitalize the money that is already spent. The closing would impact 406 employees, but in reality that means 1,000 people, if you include their families, churches and schools,” said Wilhelmi.

He continued to say that not only would the families of the 406 employees need to move to accommodate various jobs but the families of the 1,500 inmates will also have to travel two hours or more to the nearest facility, which will be in either Vandalia, Maynard, or Pontiac.

“The next step is me sitting down with the governor’s office. Those discussions are going to continue,” said Wilhelmi.

The next COGFA meeting is scheduled for April 17th and will serve as a deadline for the department of corrections and their decision to either comply or not.

Justice & Crime Public
department of corrections gov. blagojevich prison statesville

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