Prairie Advocate News

IDOC to Open Thomson Correctional Center

Tony Carton For The Prairie Advocate

Many Carroll County residents breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday when Illinois Department of Corrections Director Roger E. Walker Jr. confirmed the transfer of more than 800 maximum security prisoners and as many as 540 prison personnel to the Thomson Correctional Center beginning in January 2009.

Walker outlined the IDOC plan to close the Pontiac facility and open the one in Thomson to an assembled crowd of more than 2500 in the Pontiac High School Auditorium Wednesday evening.

The plan

"Our department has made a concerted effort over the past two years to develop a formula that would allow us to open the state-of-the-are maximum security facility that has been sitting empty since 2001 in Thomson IL," Walker noted. "The best available option for the IDOC at this time is to close Pontiac and to maximize efficiencies by opening the Thomson site."

He cited his two-year security level step-down policy in explaining that Pontiac houses five distinct inmate populations, of which four are maximum-security with the fifth housed in the facility's medium-security unit.

"Pontiac's maximum-security population totaled 1247 at the end of FY08, of which 129 non-mental health inmates had non-maximum-security classifications" he said. "Also, the protective-custody population is double-celled at a 90% rate on a consistent basis. Opening Thomson Correctional Center will allow 1,100 maximum-security inmates to be single-celled including all the protective-custody inmates, while leaving 500 beds to be reserved for transfers from other maximum-security locations."

Walker noted the deteriorating condition of the Pontiac unit saying the 130-year-old facility was originally a Boys Reformatory School and that an independent survey conducted by the Illinois Capital Development Board during February 2008 listed more than $108 million of deferred maintenance needs over the next five years. Walker also said the survey provided no consideration of roads, gas, sewage, and electrical lines exterior walls or

Executive Assistant to the IDOC Director Sergio Molina said the agency is prefacing its plan to close the Pontiac Correctional Center with the movement of at least eight hundred inmates to the Thomson Correctional Center.

"The plan is to open Thomson simultaneously with the closing of Pontiac. That is the plan that we've got in this year's budget, and as of right now, that's the plan that we look forward to moving on."

The Thomson Correctional Center, located in Carroll County, is a $140 million state-of-the-art center built in November 2001. The facility has never been utilized; only the 200-bed minimum security unit opened in August 20067 has been in operation. There are 1600 single-cells (that can readily be converted to double-cells if needed) contained within two-tiered tapered housing units for improved sightlines and easier accessibility to individual cells. The facility also has newer electronics and visual systems for improved communication and monitoring.

The economics

The IDOC requested that the Institute of Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University provide economic impact analysis by examining staff salaries and benefits, actual and projected expenditures for operations, contracts, and commodities.

Carroll County Board member Gerald Bork (left) and Savanna Mayor William Lease

Carroll County Board member Gerald Bork (left) and Savanna Mayor William Lease address the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability during Wednesday's State Facility Closure Act hearing in Pontiac.

Pontiac Residents at Hearing in PontiacMore than two thousand concerned Pontiac area residents packed the high school auditorium to ask the Commission on Government Forecasting to leave the Pontiac Correctional Center open. Well over a hundred attendees filled out forms qualifying them to give testimony during the hearing. (PA photos/Tony Carton)

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