Prison watchdog: Quinn cutting in wrong places – WJBC – The Voice of Central Illinois

The governor wants to cut millions from prison drug treatment programs and job placement services, which a prison watchdog group says is asking for trouble.

The proposed $12 million cut is part of the governor’s budget plan that would close eight facilities, including super-max prisons and halfway houses. John Maki, executive director of prison watchdog group John Howard Association said policy makers aren’t focusing on the big picture.

“As the General Assembly and the Governor work out the details on this budget, they need to be thinking about the long term,” he said. “Ultimately again, we can make short term decisions that might save us money right now, but we’ll pay for at a much greater cost down the road.”

Maki said the loss of rehabilitation programs will mean petty drug offenders will stay in prison longer than necessary. He argued it costs far more to incarcerate a person than rehabilitate him.

Maki said recidivism is greatly reduced when drug users receive help behind prison walls.

Quinn has proposed closing the Tamms Super Max facility in southern Illinois and the Dwight Correctional Center in Central Illinois.

via Prison watchdog: Quinn cutting in wrong places – WJBC – The Voice of Central Illinois.

Public comments open on Dwight prison – MyWebTimes.com

It’s the people’s turn to speak.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability is accepting public comments on the proposed closure of the Dwight Correctional Facility.

On Feb. 22, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed closing the 81-year-old facility to save $37.3 million annually. Earlier this week, an estimated 750 people attended a rally in Dwight showing their support for keeping open the state’s lone maximum-security prison for women.

The commission handles the facility closure process and is in charge of making an advisory opinion to the administration. Those public comments and requests for public testimony will continue for the next several weeks until a formal hearing is scheduled. That should be some time in May, just as the General Assembly begins budget talks.

Anyone interested in speaking at the hearing or sending written commentary can email facilityclosure@ilga.gov.

Per the Facility Closure Act, CoGFA submitted its request March 1 to the Department of Corrections to seek a formal closure recommendation. Now, the DOC must submit a recommendation by Saturday, March 31, including the number of employees at Dwight, the locations where functions and employees will be moved, the ability to accommodate those moves, the cost of operations at both facilities and the economic impact on Dwight, among others.

“This process will continue, but at the same time, we recognize this allows the public or anyone else who is concerned about Dwight Correctional Center to submit their input,” said state Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, on Thursday. “In terms of the actual facility closure process, right now is a time where things are dormant until we have an impact study and a date for the commission hearing.”

The Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council commissioned an economic impact study and found the closure could mean a loss of an estimated $44 million to the Dwight area.

Of the prison’s 359 employees, 142 are from Livingston County, 59 of those from Dwight, 76 from Kankakee County, 60 from La Salle County — with 44 of those from Streator — 21 from Grundy County and 19 from Cook County.

According to the study, as many as 375 indirect jobs also could be lost due to the closure.

Public comments can be viewed at “www.ilga.gov/commission/cgfa2006/Home.aspx” after clicking the Facility Closures tab, then Dwight Correctional Center. A copy of the public notice and recommendation requested by CoGFA also are posted on the website.

Dwight is one of four facilities listed on the request, along with Tamms Correctional Center, Peoria Adult Transition Center and Westside Adult Transition Center in Chicago.

via Public comments open on Dwight prison – MyWebTimes.com.

2nd step of closing complete – Pontiac, IL – Pontiac Daily Leader

It seems the state isn’t wasting much time in moving along in the process of closing the Dwight Correctional Center.

Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, announced Thursday that the second step in the closure process has already taken place.

“On March 1, COGFA (Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability) asked the Department of Corrections for their opinion on the closure. This is the second step of the process. COGFA will have their response by March 31. We are waiting for COGFA to set a hearing date, which will include public comment,” Cultra said.

Cultra emphasized that the people who want to get involved still have time to get in contact with legislators by phone, mail or e-mail. The best way to get contact information for those people or for information about other things going on in Springfield is by visiting www.ilga.gov.

“It was good to see everyone work together at the rally in Dwight Monday and everyone working together is what will make the difference. Ultimately, it’s the governor’s decision whether the prison closes or not and he needs to hear the voices and the stories of the people that will be affected if the prison closes,” Cultra said.

An Economic Impact Study began recently to detail exactly what kind of hardships would befall the area if the prison were indeed closed.

Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing closing the 81-year-old Livingston County facility housing female inmates by the end of August.

Dwight Village Administrator Kevin McNamara said that Northern Illinois University began that study a little over a week ago and the results should be available on or around March 16.

“As far as I know, our next step is waiting for COGFA to set a hearing date,” he said.

McNamara said village and county officials continue to contact legislators and COGFA members, stating their case on why the prison should not be closed.

via 2nd step of closing complete – Pontiac, IL – Pontiac Daily Leader.

morrisdailyherald.com | Keeping Dwight Prison open is vital in Morris, Illinois

By Jason Helland

Keeping Dwight Correctional Center open is not only vital to the local economy, but it is vital to public safety. Each day, when a criminal is arrested, a prosecutor makes a decision whether to charge them with a crime or not charge them. If the prosecutor decides to charge the criminal, the prosecutor must make a decision in what crimes to charge them with, and this decision includes whether to charge the criminal with a misdemeanor or a felony.

Notably, a criminal is not charged with a felony every time a felony is committed. A prosecutor will often look at all the surrounding circumstances to determine whether a felony should be charged. Is the case strong? Did the offender make restitution? Did the police do a thorough investigation? Does the offender have a lengthy criminal history? Was great bodily harm inflicted on the victim? Was the victim handicapped or over the age of 60? Needless to say, many factors are looked at before a felony is even charged.

Felons are the most dangerous criminals in our society. Our state legislature has told us so when they have made only certain offenses felonies and have provided for the possibility of incarceration in a state facility for at least one year when a felony is committed.

In order to be sentenced to the Illinois Department of Corrections, one must (1) be found guilty by either a judge or a jury or (2) enter a plea agreement. Once the criminal has either been found guilty or plead guilty, a sentencing hearing will be held at which the prosecutor will present aggravating factors to the judge to show why they feel that the criminal should be sentenced to prison, while the defense attorney will present mitigating factors of why the criminal should be sentenced to probation, conditional discharge, or other sentencing alternatives that do not involve incarceration. The point is simple. Only the offenders that are the worst of the worst are sentenced to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Prison is for the worst of the worst. Prison is for those offenders who have a track record that shows they will not stop committing crimes unless they are incarcerated. Prison is for those offenders that will continue to be a danger to themselves or others unless incarcerated. Prison is for offenders who refuse to successfully complete substance abuse treatment although they have a major drug or alcohol problem. Probation is not given to them because they have continually shown over time that they won’t complete what the judge or the probation officer has asked of them or that they must go to prison.

I have no doubt that if Dwight is closed, public safety will be adversely affected.

Dangerous criminals will be released early and set free back into our community. Parole officers’ case loads will increase and the criminals will be under minimal supervision committing new offenses.

It is vital that the Dwight Correctional Center remain open. Not only to save jobs and the local economy, but also to protect the public.

via morrisdailyherald.com | Keeping Dwight Prison open is vital in Morris, Illinois.

Prison cuts include reductions to drug counseling, job training

Not only does Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal call for shoehorning more inmates into fewer prisons, but his plan would reduce drug counseling and job training programs for prisoners.

Critics say that combination of cuts could make the state’s overcrowded penal system more dangerous and could result in more inmates returning to prison because they lack job skills and still suffer from substance abuse problems.

“If you remove those programs, you’re essentially adding more people to the prison system,” said John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group.

With the state facing a massive pile of unpaid bills and rising pension and Medicaid costs, Quinn is calling for significant cuts throughout state government. At the Illinois Department of Corrections, his plan would close the state’s lone super-maximum-security lockup in Tamms and the lone maximum-security prison for women in Dwight.

He also wants to shutter six of the state’s eight adult prisoner transition centers, which serve as halfway houses for inmates as they prepare to move back into society.

The cuts to job training and substance abuse programs amount to about $12.1 million. Among the prisons affected are the state’s two facilities that specialize in drug treatment: Sheridan Correctional Center and Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center.

Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano said the cuts are forcing the agency to find new ways to deliver services. In addition to having Sheridan and Southwestern continue to serve as the main prisons for drug abuse programs, Solano said the agency is in the process of identifying additional facilities to focus on specialized programs.

For now, the department isn’t saying which facilities are being targeted.

“There are still many details to be worked out and further specifics will be provided as the department continues to progress in the budget process,” Solano said.

The closure of adult prisons and facilities for juvenile offenders will result in more than 1,100 state employees being laid off, administration figures show.

But, some of the private vendors that provide drug counseling and job training also will be cutting employees if the legislature adopts Quinn’s cuts. Substance abuse programs operated by the Jacksonville-based Wells Center, for example, are being reduced by $1 million, potentially affecting 28 workers.

“It will really have a big impact on us,” said Wells Center executive director Bruce Carter. “We’ll have real people losing real jobs.”

Prison experts say inmate programs help prisoners shave time off their sentences and prepare them to lead a productive life once they are released. Job training programs also can help reduce violence by keeping prisoners busy, Maki said.

“Vocational programs are already on life-support in the department,” Maki said.

“Pat Quinn’s budget is full of bungled priorities,” added Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. “It decimates drug treatment and job training in our prisons when he knows that it helps reduce recidivism.”

The state’s prison population has expanded at a rapid rate since Quinn ended an early release program in 2009 after it was revealed that some inmates were being released after spending virtually no time behind bars. The inmate population at the end of February was listed at 48,300. The state’s facilities were built to house about 33,000 inmates.

State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, whose district includes the Sheridan Correctional Center, said the governor could relieve some pressure on the system if he would implement some kind of early release program.

“I would hope he would restore the good time credit that was shut down for political reasons,” Mautino said.

Maki said the General Assembly also has to get involved by approving changes in criminal law that could keep people out of prison in the first place.

“Some of this stuff could really work if it was accompanied by safe, effective reform,” said Maki.

Other states, including New York, have seen their prison populations drop after implementing drug courts and community-based supervision for nonviolent offenders.

Both Maki and Mautino, however, say such reforms are a tough sell in the legislature, especially in an election year.

“It’s an unpopular vote,” Mautino said.

Lawmakers are scheduled to finalize the budget plan by May 31

via Prison cuts include reductions to drug counseling, job training.

Prisoner Cell-Phone Use Prompts Legislation | Heartlander Magazine

In an effort to thwart the use of cell phones in prisons, the Illinois Department of Corrections is requesting information from cell phone companies regarding equipment to detect and “jam” or prevent illegal cell phone calls within the prison grounds.

The Correctional Department says contraband cell phones pose dangers by potentially helping in escape attempts and by enabling prisoners to arrange for crimes against people outside the prison, but at this time they are only seeking information and do not have any set plans to install systems to detect the devices.

“While cell phones can pose a threat, the actual number of phones confiscated within Illinois DOC facilities is fairly low and therefore doesn’t constitute the department spending money on this type of system at this point in time,” said Stacey Solano, public information officer for the Illinois Dept. of Corrections.

Growing Problem?

Although the number of illegal cell phones actually collected in Illinois is low, the problem is increasing, the state’s numbers show. Five phones were collected in 2010, and 15 in 2011. The increase, however, was caused by staff members at one facility bringing their cell phones into the facility for personal use.

Read more here:  Prisoner Cell-Phone Use Prompts Legislation | Heartlander Magazine.

Former Corrections director Roger Walker dies – Springfield, IL – The State Journal-Register

Roger Walker Jr., who served as director of the Illinois Department ofCorrections from 2003-2009, died Saturday afternoon at a Springfield hospital after battling a series of illnesses. He was 63.

The (Decatur) Herald & Review reported Walker suffered from a digestive system problem beginning in 2009 that required hospitalization on a number of occasions since then.

Walker is a former sheriff in Macon County and became the first elected black sheriff in state history.

“Roger was a great guy, a history-maker and a man of the community,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement released Sunday. “As the first elected black sheriff in Illinois history, Roger made a difference in Macon County. As director of the Department of Corrections and later a member of the Prisoner Review Board, he made a difference throughout Illinois. Roger believed in power of the law, and he proudly upheld the law. He loved democracy. We won’t soon see someone like him again.”

via Former Corrections director Roger Walker dies – Springfield, IL – The State Journal-Register.

A great exhibit of leading by example. – Pontiac, IL – Pontiac Daily Leader

By Cynthia Grau

As a reporter, I have to be very non-biased. I have to write from a standpoint that I have absolutely no opinion at all, which honestly, isn’t very hard. I typically write stories that include more direct quotes than anything else so that there’s less chance to report anything untrue and if it is untrue, it can’t be associated with a mistake I made because I have a person recorded on digital audio saying whatever quote I used.

Something I will say, with showing no bias to either pole, is that all the people coming together to keep the Dwight Correctional Center open is very inspiring.

I have been a part of the meeting with leaders when the announcement first happened. I was also allowed to listen in and ask questions during a conference call with area leaders and a COGFA member. Last night, I was able to attend the rally held at Dwight Township High School.

I stood on one end of the gym, taking in all the people that packed the place. There were people there of all ages, Livingston County Sheriff’s Police, Dwight firemen, Livingston County Board members, Dwight Village trustees, Dwight Prison guards – people from pretty much all walks of life. There were young children holding signs. While speakers were addressing the crowd, everyone was very attentive and would break out into applause and cheers if something the speaker said sparked that kind of reaction.

I can sit back and say, “So the prison may be closed. I’ll still have a job,” but I do care more than that. This affects so much more than a group of people being out of a job. As one of the speakers said last night, “Write your legislators; put a face and a personal story behind each person this will affect.”

Whether a person gets along with their coworkers or goes to work everyday with a smile plastered to their face, or even if they dread going but it’s a job they’ve had for so many years, everyone has the same bond in the situation. That thing in common is bringing them together, changing it from a couple hundred individuals to one body – a body that is working for the same purpose: To keep the prison open.

Something that crossed my mind last night after taking this all in, with the electricity from the excitement off the rally coursing through my brain, was what could we as a whole do with our world if we all just stuck together? What could we do if we put differences aside and bonded together to make things happen? One clear voice is a lot stronger than a couple thousand conversations running together. Think about it: It would be like sitting in a crowded restaurant and keeping track of every conversation in great detail. Wouldn’t it be easier if it was just one-on-one in that restaurant? I know it would be for me.

I know this isn’t a new concept and people have been preaching this for years, but just imagine what we as a county, state, nation and world could do if everyone stuck together for a general purpose? I know that is an absolute impossibility, but in this “all about me and me only” day in age, and since the world has been like this for awhile, I believe that we’re starting to see the side effects of that mindset.

With the different political affiliations, religions and denominations, and personal upbringings people had, this whole “binding the world together” would be impossible, but the scene in Dwight last night proved that, even though DCC and Dwight and Livingston County may just be a small blip on the worldwide map, anything is possible.

My wish for today is that everyone takes note of that great group of people. Use them as an example that if you believe in something, like they believe in keeping the prison open, anything is worth the fight.

I wish the best of luck to everyone with their fight. I hope it works out for the best.

via A great exhibit of leading by example. – Pontiac, IL – Pontiac Daily Leader.

Economic group studies prison closure – WJBC – The Voice of Central Illinois

The Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council is assessing the economic impact of closing the Dwight Correctional Center.

The GLCEDC executive Director Larry Vaupel says if the prison closes, it would be a $40 million hit to the local economy.

“That has a ripple effect. It is not just the people that work at the prison, but the people who work at the restaurants, gas stations, municipalities, school districts and the construction industry, as well. It has a ripple effect through the economy,” said Vaupel.

Vaupel says Livingston County officials are partnering with Kankakee and Grundy Counties in the fight to save the prison.

via Economic group studies prison closure – WJBC – The Voice of Central Illinois.

Supporters rally for Dwight prison – MyWebTimes.com

Dwight Correctional Center employee Kathy Kissiar never imagined Monday’s scene.

Not in Dwight.

About 800 people nearly filled the Dwight High School gymnasium bleachers in a rally to save the village’s prison. On Feb. 22, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed to close the 81-year old facility to save $37.3 million annually in the state budget.

State senators Shane Cultra and Sue Rezin, state representatives Jason Barickman and Pam Roth, Dwight Mayor Bill Wilkey — as well as city officials and union leaders — spoke to those in attendance and encouraged them they would fight to keep the prison open.

“We’ve been through this before with Stateville, Logan, Sheridan and Pontiac,” said Kissiar, who sat at the front table with petitions. “Never did I think Dwight would end up on that list. It’s such a unique facility.”

Illinois’ lone maximum security prison for women houses 980 inmates and employs 359 people. The facility possesses the state’s Reception and Classification Center and serves as the state’s writ center, housing female inmates from Decatur and Lincoln when they have court appearances.

Dwight City Administrator Kevin McNamara said Monday the economic impact of closing the prison would be widespread.

The Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council commissioned an economic impact study and found the closure could mean a loss of an estimated $40 million to the Dwight area.

“This is not a village of Dwight issue,” said Larry Vaupel with the Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council. “This is an issue that has tremendous ripple effects to the economy through Livingston, Grundy and Kankakee counties.”

Of its 359 employees, 59 are from Dwight, 55 from Bradley, Bourbonnais or Kankakee, 44 from Streator, 39 from Pontiac and 19 from Cook County.

Anthony Starkey is one of 44 employees from Streator who does not want to lose the 15 years he put into working at Dwight.

“I’ve invested a lot for me and my family,” Starkey said.”You never want to have to start at ground zero somewhere else. There are a lot of others in Streator here who are thinking the same thing.”

Cultra referred to the rally as a deja vu of sorts, remembering past proposals to close Pontiac Correctional Center, but cited a crucial difference between the Dwight proposal and the one to close Pontiac three years earlier.

Since then, the Facility Closure Act has been put in place with an economic impact study.

“Our case has to be made economically,” Cultra said. “You look at the fiscal shape the state is in, we have to cut, but where is the most prudent place to cut?”

Staffing levels at Dwight are listed as seven inmates to every employee, Cultra said, where other facilities across the state average are 12 to 1.

Statistics presented showed 60 percent of inmates hail from Cook County, meaning transfers downstate would be more costly and difficult on visitors.

“From an economic standpoint, we have some good facts here to present to the rest of our legislators, the governor and his staff,” Cultra said. “And we can say, ‘You know what, you’re not going to save much money closing Dwight. In fact, I don’t think you’ll save any money.'”

Those in attendance were reminded the closure is still a proposal and will be reviewed by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability sometime in early May — when the advisory committee will hold a hearing in Dwight and vote on a recommendation. This will occur just as the General Assembly meets to begin budget talks.

Until then, Wilkey said the No. 1 priority is to get Dwight prison back in into the budget. A vote from 60 representatives and 30 senators will be needed to allocate the funds to keep Dwight open.

“Our goal tonight is to let you know that we’re not just sitting by and thinking this is just politics and they won’t close the prison,” Wilkey said. “We’re doing what we can to fight.”

Those in attendance were encouraged to contact the governor’s office, members of the Illinois Senate Appropriations Committee and CoGFA.

“You are the most important person in this right now,” said Dan Dunlap, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1133 president. ” … Together we can keep Dwight open.”

By The Numbers

The Dwight Correctional Center employs 359 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Here is the breakdown geographically:

BY COUNTY:

142 from Livingston

76 from Kankakee

60 from La Salle

21 from Grundy

19 from Cook

BY COMMUNITY:

59 from Dwight

55 from Bradley-Bourbonnais or Kankakee

44 from Streator

39 from Pontiac

via Supporters rally for Dwight prison – MyWebTimes.com.