State once again threatens prison closing

By Joe Bennett

March 5, 2012 Updated Mar 6, 2012 at 1:09 PM CDT

DWIGHT, Ill. -- In his budget message, Governor Pat Quinn said closing state facilities was one way to cut the state's inflated budget.

However, in Dwight, Illinois, the threat to close the prison there is seen as cutting the heart out of a community.

Employees of the prison, residents of Dwight and state legislators rallied Monday night, making the first move for a campaign of support to keep Gov. Quinn from permanently locking the doors to the Dwight Correctional Center.

"It would be devastating," according to Mayor Bill Wiley. "We're close, we're just an hour out of Chicago, we've got a train station that's right off of 55. Location is everything."

Support for the village of Dwight comes quickly, as this rhetoric has been heard before.

Former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy spoke similar words when former Governor Blagojevich threatened to close the Pontiac facility in 2008.

The difference, McCoy said, Dwight is smaller but the ratio of prison employees to the community is greater.

"Not only will it be bad for this area but it will be bad for the IDOC," McCoy said. "Department of Corrections needs this facility. It's the only maximum security prison for women in this state."

The Governor has proposed closing eight DOC facilities, with estimated cost reductions of more than $65 million for Fiscal Year 2013.

"I don't know where these inmates would go or what it will cost somewhere else," said Dwight resident Larry Smith. "It might cost more than $34,000."

According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, it costs about $34,000 annually for each of the 1,000 inmates here.

That means at $37 million, this facility alone makes up more than two-thirds of the Governor's estimated cost reductions.

"The Governor's plan here includes transitioning prisoners from a maximum security to a facility that is not a maximum security prison," Republican State Representative Jason Barickman from the 105th District told us. "There are certainly going to be costs to upgrade the facilities they plan to move these inmates to."

Local leaders and state legislators urge residents to petition the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability before the commission reports back to the Governor.

But no matter how many petitions are signed, the decision ultimately rests on the shoulders of Gov. Quinn.

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