Tuesday, September 27, 2005

We'll Leave a Light on for You

Channel 5 News ran a story Monday night on the vacant Thomson Correctional Center. And while the piece didn't lay the blame for having an empty $140 million prison at anybody's feet, I think that it's safe to say that the piece doesn't do much to bolster anyone's confidence in state government.

The maximum-security prison was completed in 2001. It has languished empty near the Mississippi River, at the Illinois-Iowa border since its completion. The facility holds 1,600 cells in eight cell houses and a 200-bed minimum-security unit on 146 acres of former cornfields.

Illinois Auditor General William Holland released a report in April showing the unused state prison cost the state $1.8 million last year. According to the audit, the funds were spent on staff, utilities and telecommunications. I'm not sure that I understand that, given that the NBC story said that the facility only has one employee, who is essentially a caretaker. A lot of that could be the result of the fact (as I understand it) that the state is covering the bond payments owed by the town as the result of sewer and water improvements made in conjunction with the construction of the hoosegow. (There's a word you don't get to use too often.)

In addition to a construction price tag of $140 million, an estimated $50 million annually is needed for the state to operate the prison, funds we have been unable (unwilling) to appropriate for Thomson. The folks in Thomson aren't so much upset by the wasted state money as they are about missing out on the 700 jobs that the prison was supposed to create.

Which brings me, in a roundabout kind of way, to my actual point.

There is something fundamentally wrong with us when we look at prison construction as economic development. Common sense would dictate that nobody would want a prison in their backyard. But we watch these mostly rural communities fight tooth and nail with each other to try to get some of the baddest guys Illinois has to offer as their new neighbors. Why? Construction jobs, guard jobs, cafeteria jobs, hotel and restaurant business, etc.

We struggle as a state to spend just over $5000/year to educate a child, but don't think twice about spending $20,ooo/year to incarcerate an adult, and we don't see the connection between the two. The Thomson debacle aside, there is something very wrong with this picture and it has to do with our priorities.

Maybe if our classrooms weren't so crowded, our prisons wouldn't be either.

Coupled with increasing global competition for jobs, if more legislators don't stop thinking in terms of election cycles and start seeing the big picture, we are all going to be in for a very rude awakening.


At September 27, 2005 at 7:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will you introduce legislation to tear the facility down?

At September 27, 2005 at 8:19 AM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

That would make even less sense than building it in the first place. I'm kind of intrigued though by the concept that was floated of an interstate compact with Iowa whereby we could get paid to house some of their inmates.

My point is that we need to understand that, morally and economically, our resources are better spent on education than incarceration. An obvious point, but one that has eluded action for decades in Illinois.

At September 27, 2005 at 8:32 AM, Anonymous Illinois Democrat said...

I have worked for the I.D.O.C for 16 years and I can tell you what will happen.. They will open Thomson and close a perfectly good prison in Pontiac..What you should look into Rep. Fritchey is how many inmates are being housed in Cook Co. Jail for I.D.O.C, and what the State is paying for each one of these inmates. And also why is Lawrence Correction Center only half full.

At September 27, 2005 at 11:36 AM, Blogger Amy Allen said...

Sir, with all due respect, isn't Jacobs the sen for Boland's House district(with Verschoore as the other rep)?

At September 27, 2005 at 4:10 PM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

Damn it Amy, you are right AGAIN. There's goes that whole theory. At the same time, it then makes that much less sense why they wouldn't fund the opening and operation of the facility. I stand by everything else that I said.

At September 27, 2005 at 9:00 PM, Anonymous Illinois Democrat said...

Dear hon.John Fritchey can I get a response to my questions..Thank you

At September 27, 2005 at 9:16 PM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

IL Dem,

Have a heart here, you only asked them about 12 hours ago. I will look into them to see what I can find out. If you would like, send me an e-mail at mystaterep@aol.com and I will let you know when I find something out.

At September 28, 2005 at 8:14 AM, Anonymous Illinois Democrat said...

Sorry John .

At September 28, 2005 at 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would this be considered 'educational' spending?

Illinois Youth Center Chicago
Opened: July 1999
Capacity: 130
Level 2: High Medium Security-Security Juvenile Male & Female
Average Daily Population: 104
Total Average Daily Population: 104
Average Age: 17
Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $76,095.00

At September 28, 2005 at 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So is building prisons considered an in-kind donation to George Ryan?

Or, Blago?

At September 28, 2005 at 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a crazy idea, why dont we put trade schools in the jails, like the old Washburn Trade school so these people can get a job when they get out of the joint.

At September 29, 2005 at 10:38 AM, Blogger Amy Allen said...

Thank you, sir.


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