Workers, residents oppose moving Logan prison from Lincoln (2024)

Brenden Moore

SPRINGFIELD — At Logan Correctional Center, some problems can be seen clearly from either side of the bars.

There is consensus among employees and inmates on the need to rebuild the deteriorating Central Illinois facility, described in a state report last year as "inefficient, ineffective, and unsuitable for any population."

But the Illinois Department of Corrections faces fierce local pushback against its proposed solution, which involves moving the women's prison from Lincoln to the grounds of Stateville Correctional Center in suburban Chicago.

Dozens of people, mostly prison employees and Lincoln residents, wrote this month to a state legislative commission tasked with making a recommendation about the plan. In written testimony to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, they said the move would disrupt the lives and families of more than 450 workers while upending the larger social fabric and economic fate of the community, population roughly 13,000.

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"Its closure would not only result in the loss of jobs but also the loss of a sense of belonging and identity for many members of our community," said Blake Utterback, a food service supervisor at the prison. "The social bonds that have been forged within its walls would be severed, leaving a void that cannot easily be filled."

Utterback called the prison, which opened in 1978 and houses abut 1,070 inmates, "a vital cornerstone of our community."

"Its closure would not only mean the loss of jobs for myself and my colleagues but also the erosion of the economic stability that our families rely on," he said.

The city has suffered several economic blows in the past quarter-century. In 2002, the state closed Lincoln Developmental Center, a school for people with disabilities that had employed about 500 people. The years following the COVID-19 pandemic saw closures from two private colleges that had also contributed heavily to local economy. Lincoln College, a private liberal arts school, closed in 2022 partly because of a cyberattack the year before. Lincoln Christian University held its last classes this month, having beenacquired last year by Ozark Christian College in Missouri.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration first unveiled a $900 million plan to demolish and rebuild both Logan and Stateville prisons in March.

More details became public last month, when IDOC submitted its recommendation to the commission. The agency proposed that Logan, the state's only multi-level women's correctional facility, be shuttered in Lincoln and rebuilt more than 140 miles away on the same site as Stateville, a maximum-security men's prison.

Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability hearing on Logan, Stateville

The bicameral, bipartisan state legislative commission is expected to issue a nonbinding recommendation on the plan next month after public hearings that will be held near both facilities. However, a decision could effectively be made later this month if lawmakers approve a state budget in which funds for the plan are appropriated.

Under state law, a public comment period is required whenever the closure of a state facility has been proposed. Through May 15, the overwhelming majority of those submitting feedback on Logan have urged the state to reconsider. They generally said yes to rebuilding the facility— but in Lincoln.

"I enjoy living in my community," said Janeen Wright, a corrections assessment specialist at Logan. "My paycheck goes much farther here than it will in an area where the cost of living is higher."

"The state has invested in keeping good employers in Central Illinois by giving millions of dollars in incentives to Rivian and Ferrero to stay in Bloomington and expand their facilities," she added. "Keeping Logan Correctional Center in Logan County is an opportunity for the state to invest in the families and smaller communities in Central and Southern Illinois."

Pritzker, asked by reporters earlier this monthafter the ribbon-cutting ofFerrero's new Bloomington facility about the possible relocation of Logan, said that the future of most places across the state is to attract private sector jobs and "to not rely upon a state-run facility that's a prison."

"That can't be a great economic growth strategy for the area," he said.

But the reality is that prisons and other state facilities often serve as the anchors of small- and medium-sized downstate communities. Their closure can have devastating ripple effects.

"Even though you see ‘hiring’ signs all over our community, most of these jobs are not ones that can support a growing family or provide a career with benefits for family security," said Lincoln resident Linda Leslie, adding that "the decay of the development center" as one enters town is "a very jarring and painful reminder of the demise of communities like Lincoln."

The relocation of Logan would just add to that, community members say.

"To remove this key employer from Lincoln would be akin to kicking a proverbial dog while it is down," said Lincoln resident Chris Slaby.

State corrections officials insist that Logan employees will be able to keep jobs within the agency, estimating that 850 positions will be available at other facilities within a 90-mile radius of Logan, including Decatur’s women’s prison and the neighboring men’s facility, the Lincoln Correctional Center.

But Logan employees said commuting perhaps as much as three hours round-trip each day for work was an unrealistic expectation. Concerns included increased time away from their families if they did transfer to a new facility and chose to commute.

"The convenience of being able to work without a commute provides us more time to spend with our two daughters," said Rheannon Frost, a mental health staff assistant at Logan, where her husband also works as a correctional officer. "The idea that those who currently work at Logan Correctional Center can simply commute to the new facility if it is built up north is, in my opinion, ridiculous."

"The prospect of uprooting families and relocating them to a different area can be incredibly challenging, both emotionally and practically," said John Tierney, a Logan employee. "Balancing work and family life is already a challenge, and the prospect of becoming a weekend parent due to logistical constraints adds an extra layer of difficulty."

Some said they would have no choice but to move. Others said they would be unable to, with one prison caseworker writing to the commission that she is receiving cancer treatment in St. Louis and her support system is in Lincoln, making a move to northern Illinois out of the question.

Another employee said his job at the prison allows him to stay close to his father, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

Other concerns included safety, with many remembering the difficult transition of inmates to Logan when Dwight Correctional Center closed in 2013.

"We did not have all the training we needed when this happened and it was catastrophic to us and the individuals in custody," said correctional sergeant Lisa Dial. "Many of these individuals would not wish to go through this again."

The community would suffer in other ways. A few commenters highlighted the possible loss of Helping Paws, a program through Paws Giving International that allows Logan inmates to train puppies that will be used as service dogs for people with disabilities. The partnership has allowed the Peoria-based non-profit to expand the amount of dogs in the program.

A handful of inmates sent feedback that highlighted the poor conditions at Logan. Most said they did not want to relocate to another prison, instead arguing that they should be granted early release.

"I am praying you would be able to help the elderly to get out before we die in here from the conditions of this facility," wrote Janet Yurus, who is 67 and midway through a 32-year sentence for a murder conviction. "Most of this facility is not safe for humans to live in."

Myra Osborne, who is serving a 30-year sentence on a first degree murder charge, said that "healthcare has slowly become harder to obtain" at the facility due to staff turnover.

"The condition of living facilities are very bad," she said. "There is black mold everywhere. Bathrooms have standing pools of water from leaking pipes."

Carmen Stonemark, serving a 17-year sentence on a murder for hire charge, said she would like to remain at Logan for the rest of her sentence.

"I know we are in prison and should not be comfortable, but we are humans too despite the crimes committed and this place… has a home atmosphere," Stonemark said.

A community meeting will be held within the next month in Logan County about the possible closure.

State officials said they plan to leave the Lincoln facility open during the three- to five-year construction of a new facility in Will County.

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Low pay, understaffed shifts, and dangerous conditions: New data shows a worsening prison staffing shortage crisis

Workers, residents oppose moving Logan prison from Lincoln (1)

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Contact Brenden Moore atbrenden.moore@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter:@brendenmoore13

"Its closure would not only result in the loss of jobs but also the loss of a sense of belonging and identity for many members of our community."

— Blake Utterback, food service supervisor at Logan Correctional Center

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  • Cost Of Living
  • Prison
  • Dwight Correctional Center
  • Politics

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Workers, residents oppose moving Logan prison from Lincoln (2024)
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