Quinn to revisit Pontiac prison closure

February 12, 2009 3:24:58 PM PST
No town rejoiced more at the removal of Governor Rod Blagojevich from office than Pontiac.Blagojevich led the charge to close the town's prison. It's a move the new governor has promised to review.

The former governor's decision last summer to close the Pontiac prison brought anger and fear to the town. Impeach Blagojevich signs went up there months before it would actually happen.

In a county where the prison is the second largest employer, the argument was that Blagojevich moved to close Pontiac to politically punish the local Republican state senator for his support of the earlier recall effort. Pontiac residents believe it had nothing to do with economics.

"Rod Blagojevich has hurt the economy of local communities. I know that," said State Senator Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac

When the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously to remove Blagojevich from office, there were no tears in Pontiac.

"It's like everywhere you went around town everyone was high-fiving and smiling and hugging. It was like a national holiday," said Stephanie DeLong.

There is great relief that the move to close the prison - which was supposed to have been completed at the end of last year - has now been placed on "indefinite" hold.

The Blagojevich administration had argued that closing the state's oldest prison and transferring its inmates to the new and unoccupied prison at Thomson, Illinois, would save $4 million a year. An independent study was cited for the claim. The author of that study has since come forward to say the $4 million savings is not the full story. He said the real bottom line is closing Pontiac could cost the state upwards of $20 million.

Pontiac's mayor says the Department of Corrections simply chose to ignore what a prison closing would do to the local economy.

"None of this really made sense from the beginning. It kind of justifies what we've said and known for eight or nine months now in this fight - that this is ridiculous," said Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy.

"If it's crumbling and isn't fiscally responsible to keep Pontiac open, than none of us is saying we want to keep it open because we don't want to move," said Deb Zega.

There's no denying here that a 137-year-old prison has liabilities, but they believe that the new governor's promise to revisit the planned closing will be fair.

"I think you should do your homework before you take your test. I plan to really look into that and decide what's the best course to follow," said Governor Pat Quinn

Quinn's remark has generated hope in Pontiac, but they'll be holding the high-fives until they get the final word.