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No vote: COGFA members unable to vote on Stateville, Logan prison closures

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(The Center Square) – A state commission didn’t vote Friday on a proposal to close two state prisons because it didn’t have enough members at the meeting.

A meeting location change isn’t a coincidence, according to one member of the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. The commission was supposed to vote Friday on its recommendation for the planned prison closures of Logan County Correctional and Stateville prison.

Some lawmakers expressed disappointment with the IDOC and its “thought bubble” of closing down two prisons. State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, said COGFA was supposed to vote Friday, but the meeting was moved abruptly to Springfield as an in-person only meeting.

“With tomorrow’s COGFA deadline for a vote on these prison issues, we were supposed to take a vote today. Today’s meeting was going to be a virtual meeting with a corresponding video conference in Chicago along with our meeting here in Springfield to ensure additional participation. Unfortunately the meeting was moved to Springfield as an in-person only meeting which limited members’ ability to participate. Coincidence? A day before the vote deadline … I don’t think so,” said DeWitte.

COGFA has a June 15 deadline to vote on its recommendation for the planned prison closures. State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, hopes the department will consider rehabilitating the Logan Correctional Center in Logan County.

“I did raise some questions last night at the Lincoln hearing about what the opportunity might be for rehabbing Logan in its current state. The bones of Logan are pretty sound, but the interiors are not. They haven’t been kept up and really we have to look back decades of Illinois not putting maintenance dollars into our facilities and that’s a shame. It’s an embarrassment to us,” said Koehler.

Without a quorum, the panel couldn’t take official action. Even if COGFA had taken a vote, some members were unclear on what exactly they were voting for because they said the department has a “concept” of closing two prisons rather than a plan.

No member of the commission spoke in favor of the plan to close Logan Correctional or Stateville Correctional Center. There was a lack of quorum at Friday’s COGFA meeting to vote on the proposal to close Stateville prison before rebuilding it, and to close and relocate Logan prison. Koehler hopes the department will consider keeping Stateville open for as long as possible until the new facility is built.

“The rub there was that folks would be scattered, not only the incarcerated individuals but all the staff. The concern there is how do you get that back and how do you regroup that? The consideration of having Stateville open for as long as possible is something we’d like to have considered,” said Koehler.

DeWitte brought up the declining population in the state’s prisons and said the numbers don’t add up to justify two new prisons.

“We’re also talking about a prison population that is shrinking statewide and plans to rebuild and add more space at Crest Hill? The numbers don’t make sense,” said DeWitte.

According to the Cook County Sheriff’s office the population has dropped significantly since 2017 as a result of bail reforms instituted in Cook County and dropped a little more since the elimination of cash bail.

In February of this year the Cook County sheriff’s office provided a statement regarding what they are going to do about their extra space due to more vacancies and if they were planning to house the homeless or any of the more than 35,000 migrants that have been bused to Chicago.

According to the Office of the President Press Secretary, Nick Mathiowdis, there’s a comprehensive study being conducted to identify and shift funding from duplicative or unnecessary areas, or from initiatives that do not match the core mission of a particular agency, into more effective and mission-aligned investments.

There are no plans at this time to repurpose the Cook County jail facilities.

DeWitte said the Pritzker Administration has not participated in any hearings regarding the prison closures that could have a total taxpayer cost of $900 million.

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