Thursday, April 10, 2008

"We built too many prisons"

By Patrick O'Brien
A controversial plan to shut down part of the Stateville prison in Joliet became just a bit more contentious after a packed meeting at the Statehouse Wednesday.

Department of Corrections Director Roger Walker told a House committee that the reclassification and transfer of more than 1,000 maximum security prisoners and the relocation of hundreds of employees was being done partly to justify the state’s $140 million new prison in Thomson.

Walker said that he inherited the newly built prison when he took over the agency and he “had to use it.” The statement caused more than a little discontent from the hundred-plus group of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees members who witnessed the testimony. The union is fighting the plan, saying it will cause disruptions for workers’ families and for inmates, leading to more dangerous inmates.

The facility in Thomson was completed in 2001 and remains empty, and the Illinois Department of Corrections plans to transfer 200 inmates from Stateville to open the new facility. Prison workers would also be moving with the inmates, but there will be room for far fewer workers at Thomson than would be dislocated by the plan.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said the closing of Stateville’s maximum security wing would help the Department of Corrections save $31 million in operating costs by using the newer facility in Thomson.

Stateville was built in 1925, and the state estimated it would cost $108 million to renovate the prison.

Henry Bayer, executive director of the AFSCME council that represents the Stateville employees, said the plan is dangerous because it also transfers maximum-security inmates to crowded prisons in Menard in Randolph County and near Sumner in Lawrence County. The union also accused the agency of reclassifying violent inmates to lower security levels to make it easier to transfer the prisoners to less secure facilities in the state.

Bayer also says the state inflated the amount of money it would take to renovate Stateville to make it easier to shut down a portion of the prison.

Walker said the prison is outdated and that the budget savings will help pay for 765 new positions in the understaffed agency. Bayer said the lack of staff forced correctional workers to log 700,000 hours of mandatory overtime in fiscal year 2007, which he said cost the state $24 million.


Anonymous said...

There appears to be an alternative solution that could benefit both the state and the taxpayers, and eliminate the perceived employment hardships of the AFSCME prison workers.

Privitize the Thompson prison facility under a long term lease, or perhaps a lease/purchase to a contract managment company. Allow the operator to imprison whomever they wish at the facility for their other existing government state and federal clients.

Let this facility serve serve as a pilot project for Illinois to observe the operations with consideration for accepting Illinois inmates at the facility on a private management contract basis.

Illinois inmates could consist of only those newly sentenced, eliminating any change in conditions for prisoner families, and Illinois resident employees would be only those first hired by the operator in the immediate area.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the fifth largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states.

CCA is the founder of the private corrections industry and is the nation’s largest provider of jail, detention and corrections services to governmental agencies.

CCA has approximately 72,500 beds in 65 facilities, including 40 owned facilities, under contract for management in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

CCA manages approximately 70,000 inmates including males, females and juveniles at all security levels and does business with all three federal corrections agencies, almost half of all states, and more than a dozen local municipalities.

Problem solved.


thevoiceofreason said...

Now THAT is funny. Ever bother reading Illinois statute? Private prisons are illegal in the state of Illinois.

What did you say -- NEXT!

Anonymous said...

Voice of Reason-who you crapping?

Now THAT is funny except we're not laughing with you, we're laughing at you!

Statutes are changed everyday to allow things that were previously prohibited, and to prohibit what had been previously allowed.

In Illinois the states chief executive officer actually ignores the laws and constiutional provisions if they conflict with his agenda.

In the case of the prison in Thompson; if it were not housing Illinois prisoners under management for IDOC, and instead housing federal prisoners for ICE, then it becomes nothing more than a property lease.

I actually think the best approach would be a sale/leaseback, coupled with a management contract. This would allow the state to recapture its costs for the construction upfront, while allowing the private operator a guaranteed revenue stream to cover their cost of the purchase of the building now.

All new prisoners for a specified period of time would be sentenced and assigned to Thompson in orer to ramp up the population.

Go back to the law library and keep brushing up on your statutes, and pay no attention to that legislature that is changing them while you nod off in your law books, LOL.


Hap said...

If you know anything about private prisons and the fight against them you'd know that the state of IL will not and cannot change the statue banning the privitization of jails, prisons and detention facilities. In the long run they will cost more than they are worth. Furthermore you cannot simply assign new inmates to the facility assignment isn't that simple. You have to take security classification, crime, geographical location, gang affiliation and several other factors into consideration.

With all of our state prisons being overcrowded and understaffed we cannot afford to have any of them closed. The real solution is to staff Thompson and begin transferring in inmates who fit the classification scope of the facility thus helping to alieviate overcrowding problems which result in 700,000 hours of overtime, assaults and lawsuits and save tax payers money.

The real issue isn't the prison but the fact that we are unable to fund all aspects of a failing criminal justice system.

thevoiceofreason said...

If you think this GA would lift the ban on private prisons, you should lose the anonymity cloak and just call yourself Doctor Delusional.

Anonymous said...

The Voice of Reason, feel free to just sign your name Henry.

You have conveniently shifted your position from "they can't, to "they won't" while completely avoiding the issue of why they should or shouldn't.

Hap, people are being sentenced to time at Sheridan, without respect to many of the issues and concerns you have raised, based primarily on the nature of their crime, so all of those considerations do not always come into play.

The fight against privitization is one that has gone on in many states and municipalities, and its foundation is premised on retaining government jobs. The fight over the proposed closure of Stateville is about protecting WILL COUNTY state government jobs, while the argument in favor of opening Thomson is about creating (Jo Davies? can't remember for sure) County state government jobs.

The cost to maintain Stateville is greater than it would be to activate and operate Thomson, but the political reality is that the job shifts, and prisoner shifts will make this unlikely to occur.

I say simply sell Thomson to CCA, and let them operate their business there and take in no Illinois prisoners. Let them make it a facility under contract to U.S. ICE, and create the much needed private jobs in that community.

Your solution will not work to simply staff Thomson and ship in Illinois inmates, because that is exactly the part that the state can not afford. There is no money in the budget to expand prison staff, and until revenues get in line with expenses the problem will continue to exist.

If they sold Thomson, they could perhaps take the money and put it back into the IDOC budget, and at least adequately staff the over-crowded facilities which they are operating.

Part of the problem of course is that the chances of that happening are about the same as they were when they told us they would put the Lottery money into education.

Anonymous said...

Neither one of you two know what you're talking about. First, it's not "Thompson Correctional Center", it's Thomson, and secondly, it's not "statue", it's statute!!!!! Jeeeez, how can anyone understand what you're saying when you can't get anything right????