Officials estimate $54M blow to area economy if state shuts Dwight prison

Posted: April 8, 2012 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

DWIGHT — The cost of Dwight Correctional Center — the cost to the state of keeping it open or the cost to the area economy of closing it — was at the heart of the testimony heard Wednesday by a panel of state lawmakers.

“Closures are difficult. They impact every region of the state. They impact jobs and lives,” said Austin Baidas, associate director of the governor’s Office of Budget and Management. “These decisions are difficult, but they are necessary.”

He was among dozens of representatives of government, labor, the business community, health care, churches, and the general public who testified Wednesday before the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. Hundreds of people attended and often jeered or applauded during the session at the Dwight High School gym.

While the Department of Corrections estimates closing the prison would save about $37 million a year, Dwight officials say the economic impact would be close to $54 million.

The advisory panel is expected to meet again sometime in the next few weeks to vote on nonbinding recommendations for Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close nine state facilities.

Quinn directed DOC to cut about $112 million, or about 9 percent, from its budget for fiscal 2013, so “facilities must close, and employees must be affected,” said DOC Director S.A. Godinez,. He said the department expects to eliminate about 1,100 jobs statewide.

Panel member state Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, asked why the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars on tax incentives and other programs to create jobs while at the same time cutting state jobs that boost local economies.

“You can’t go out and create 1,100 jobs in the state of Illinois for $100 million,” he said, drawing loud applause. “This whole exercise is counterproductive.”

Under the DOC plan, the 961 inmates at Dwight and the 1,007 women at Lincoln Correctional Center would be combined at Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, which now houses 1,973 men. Lincoln would be converted for male inmates.

Dwight prison, which has buildings dating to 1930, needs $18.2 million worth of repairs, including $6 million worth that must be done immediately.

While Logan requires $8.3 million in repairs, only $1.2 million in projects are considered urgent. It also would require about $524,000 in updates to create segregated space for Dwight’s mental health unit and 188 maximum-security inmates, according to DOC.

While the state estimates closing Dwight would lead to 355 DOC layoffs, local leaders say the impact would be far greater.

Larry Vaupel, CEO at the Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council, distributed copies of a Northern Illinois University study of the economic impact the closure would have on Grundy, Kankakee, LaSalle and Livingston counties.

The total loss would be 629 jobs and $53.7 million, or 5 percent, of the “gross regional product,” he said before the hearing. When 1,700 other jobs lost in the recession are factored in, the GRP would be down 12 percent, he said.

“We can’t absorb that the way big metro areas can,” he said.

Calling the loss of the prison “devastating,” Dwight Mayor Bill Wilkey said Dwight, which recently lost two car dealerships and some jobs at the RR Donnelley plant, can’t take more job losses.

While critics of the plan question closing prisons when the DOC itself says it would be at 140 percent of rated capacity, DOC officials said that number is misleading. Rated capacity often is based on single-occupancy cells, but cells routinely house two inmates now.

Henry Bayer, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, whose union represents most prison workers, renewed his call to keep the facilities open by deferring hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks approved earlier this year for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears Holding Corp.

Bayer called on state lawmakers to reverse the closure plan by funding the facilities in the fiscal 2013 budget. That was how closures proposed last year, including Logan Correctional Center, were averted, he said.

via Officials estimate $54M blow to area economy if state shuts Dwight prison.

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