Illinois lawmakers unable to respond to governor's prison plan because they lack quorum

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Members of a legislative review panel on Friday said a state proposal to replace the ancient Stateville Correctional Center in suburban Chicago makes sense, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration needs to provide more details.

However, the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability couldn't vote on its concerns because it lacked a quorum, with just three of 12 members appearing. Under state law, it had a June 15 deadline to render an opinion on the Democratic governor's idea — but it's only advisory and the process wouldn't be affected if they don't issue one.

Pritzker proposed in late winter replacing Stateville, a maximum-security prison in Crest Hill, and Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, one of the state's two lockups for women. Logan might be relocated to Will County, near Stateville.

“This is really a concept and not a plan,” said state Sen. David Koehler, a Peoria Democrat and co-chairperson of the commission. “What we’ve been presented with is the concept of replacing and building new facilities. But nothing has been worked out in terms of what, when and where.”

No one from the Pritzker administration attended the meeting. The Democrat added $900 million in the upcoming state budget to replace the facilities. State lawmakers, who don't return to session until November, can agree that upkeep has long been ignored.

“The Legislature and thousands of employees and their families deserve more transparency, more clarification, and more information from this administration that is either incapable or unwilling to provide it," said state Sen. Donald DeWitte, a Republican from St. Charles.

Prison employees — represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 — packed public hearings this week. They oppose the idea because the Illinois Department of Corrections would close Stateville and demolish it while a replacement is built on the site.

They argued that it would disrupt families by moving workers to other prisons and, they fear, jeopardize safety by moving inmates to inappropriate cellblocks for their threat level. Counselors and teachers — including from Chicago-area universities, who conduct classes inside the walls — worry their programs would be dismantled.

Koehler and co-chairperson state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, a Jacksonville Republican, who conducted the hearings, agreed on Friday that the administration should keep Stateville operating while the new building is erected.

“Stateville is beyond disrepair,” Davidsmeyer said. “We should continue to operate Stateville while we build. We should make Stateville a priority to rebuild right now — immediately. Put a rush on it.”

Lincoln, 175 miles (282 kilometers) southwest of Chicago, has seen two private colleges close in the past two years. If it loses Logan, the community will “absolutely be destroyed,” said Davidsmeyer, who joined the General Assembly just after a state mental health center closed in his hometown.

State officials believe moving Logan closer to Chicago would be more convenient for the Corrections Department because up to 40% of its inmates come from the metropolitan area. Koehler countered that the other 60% come from other parts of the state, making Lincoln a central location for the prison. He suggested keeping smaller women's facilities in both places.