Officials lay out ambitious timeline for closing, rebuilding Stateville, Logan prisons

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois prison officials Friday indicated Stateville Correctional Center could close as early as September under a plan to dismantle the sprawling facility as well as a downstate women’s prison before rebuilding both in a nearly $1 billion project that could take as long as five years to complete.

It’s been only about two months since Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the plans to rebuild Stateville and Logan correctional centers, citing the age and deteriorating condition of the facilities, and the timeline presented at a hearing Friday would depend on a number of factors.

Funding to start the project still has to be approved as part of Pritzker’s proposed $52.7 billion budget, which legislators are attempting to complete negotiations on before a scheduled May 24 adjournment. The Illinois Department of Corrections is asking for $161 million for the upcoming budget year that begins July 1 for the project at Stateville and nearly $80 million for Logan.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which has an advisory role in the process, won’t make its recommendations for the project until some time in mid-June. At some point before then, two community-based meetings need to be scheduled to solicit public input on the proposal.

State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, a Republican from downstate Jacksonville who co-chairs COGFA, expressed concerns about the timing of the plan to IDOC officials during a Friday hearing. He also accused the agency of being “less than transparent” about plans for Logan.

Those plans include moving Logan from its longtime location in Lincoln, about 30 miles northeast of Springfield, to the Stateville property in Crest Hill, near Joliet. That proposal was criticized by some downstate officials who fear it could deprive the city of Lincoln of more job opportunities, especially following the closure of Lincoln College and impending shutdown of Lincoln Christian University.

“With the timeline that we’re required to follow via COGFA, that puts us in the last week of May, which is traditionally the busiest week in Springfield,” said Davidsmeyer. “You put the members of COGFA in a situation where we almost have to choose whether we allow the communities to be heard in a way they need to be heard, or whether we come here and do our job to pass a budget.”

Acting IDOC Director Latoya Hughes replied that it wasn’t her agency’s intention to put COGFA members in a difficult situation, but testified that the agency still intends to close Stateville and move people incarcerated there to other facilities after the legislative panel makes its recommendations.

“It’s important for us to note that as we move through this process, there’s certain pieces of information we have at certain times and certain pieces of information we’re still developing because this is the first time in a very long time that we’re rebuilding facilities, and so we’re moving through this process in a (systematic) way,” Hughes said.

IDOC has said the transition of incarcerated people and staff will cost about $7 million for both facilities combined, and the agency said the plan would help the state avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs.

IDOC has also said moving Logan to the Stateville site would provide a better geographical balance for women’s prisons in the state “by providing a northern facility to pair with” Decatur Correctional Center for women, which is about 36 miles from Logan’s location in Lincoln. Under the plan, people incarcerated at Logan would remain there until the new prison is built.

At Friday’s hearing, IDOC officials unveiled a five-year estimated timeline for its project. Davidsmeyer raised concerns over whether the project will take more than five years to complete. He noted that his district touches the Mississippi River at the Missouri border, and said it takes about three years for Missouri to build a bridge and seven years in Illinois.

“It’s very hard for me to believe that we’re going to build a … secure facility any quicker than we can build a bridge,” he said.

Hughes responded that Davidsmeyer made “a very valid point” and noted IDOC officials have to work with the state’s Capital Development Board, the agency that oversees state-funded construction projects, to understand “all of the steps and the process and the time it takes to go through all of that.”

IDOC has previously said Logan employees could be relocated to anticipated department openings within a 90-mile radius of their current workplace. The IDOC recommendations have maintained that no employees are expected to lose their jobs unless they voluntarily choose a layoff. More than 450 people are staffed at Logan Correctional Center and 939 are employed at Stateville, IDOC said.

But Michael Newman, deputy director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents prison employees, testified that IDOC’s plan would “needlessly and drastically disrupt the lives of the department’s employees, the lives of individuals who are currently incarcerated, their families and the economic well-being of several communities.”

He said uncertainties remain over how the plan would affect employees’ travel plans if they’re transferred to other facilities, as well as safety issues for employees and people incarcerated, among other things.

“Every available indicator shows that our state’s prisons are becoming more dangerous for the employees who work in them, and for the individuals in custody as well,” said Newman. “Relocating all of those individuals from Stateville to correctional facilities throughout the state will only make this problem worse, as many of these facilities are already experiencing violent incidents at a time when they are seriously understaffed.”

Newman said the plan has been presented as a “done deal” and there hasn’t been any other alternatives presented to AFSCME.

State Sen. David Koehler, a Democrat from Peoria who co-chairs COGFA, acknowledged that both the union and IDOC agree that new prisons are needed but the question remains on how to agree on achieving that goal.

“Wouldn’t it be a nice model for Illinois to represent to see how we could do that as a cooperative, collaborative process?” Koehler said. “Because I think there is a way to get there. I just don’t hear it come to a focal point. So I guess that’s a challenge I throw up to (IDOC) and to the union. So if we all agree on the end result, let’s figure out a way to get there through a collaborative process.”