Correcting Stateville Correction Center's critical problems: 'Decrepit, unsafe, and inhumane'

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Wednesday, March 20, 2024
IL Stateville prison 'decrepit, unsafe, and inhumane,' watchdog says
Illinois prison watchdog, the John Howard Association, called Stateville Correction Center "decrepit." The state plans to demolish and rebuild it.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Conditions at Illinois' Stateville Prison have been described as "decrepit, unsafe, and inhumane," by the John Howard Association (JHA), an Illinois prison watchdog organization.

The state of Illinois, which owns and operates the prison, doesn't disagree with the stark findings, and last week, took a first step towards correcting them.

Governor JB Pritzker announced a plan last Friday to close down and rebuild the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill and the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, in an effort to "address critical infrastructure needs at both facilities," and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

However, the ABC7 I-Team has learned some advocates are already criticizing the new, costly and ambitious design for Stateville's replacement, arguing a replacement prison isn't necessary, and funds used to build the new facility could be better used elsewhere.

Stateville Prison, near Joliet, opened in 1925, using a penitentiary design from the 1800's.

The walls and bars have imprisoned some of the most notable criminals in Illinois' history, some spending their final days there. Stateville has even been the backdrop for several classic crime films, including "Natural Born Killers" and "Public Enemies."

That all would come to an end under Governor Pritzker's five-year, $900 million plan to demolish and rebuild both of the Stateville and Logan prison facilities. That was the recommendation in the state-commissioned Illinois Department of Corrections Master Plan released last May, that ranked Stateville as dead last in Illinois and "not suitable for any 21st century correction center."

At a news event this week, Governor Pritzker said while many details are still being worked out, the state's reduced prison population factors into why he believes this is the right action to take.

"Obviously, we would need to move people out of Stateville and people out of Logan to move them into other facilities," Pritzker said. "I should point out, I know people have said, 'Well, how on earth could you possibly do that?' Well, you may know that we have about 10,000 fewer prisoners in our corrections system today than we did five years ago."

SEE ALSO | Illinois Department of Corrections faces criticism over issues with healthcare system

The prison population reduction is exactly why advocates believe some of the state's prison facilities should be shut down, and not rebuilt.

"It was a little disappointing to hear only rebuilding without any closures announced, given the state of the system," said Jennifer Vollen-Katz, the Executive Director of the John Howard Association "Our [prison] population is under 30,000. We have a prison system that can hold over 42,000 individuals."

"There's a lot of opportunity not just to rebuild, but to close, repurpose and consolidate," Vollen-Katz told the I-Team.

Vollen-Katz traveled to Springfield on Wednesday to testify on behalf of the JHA at the House of Representatives' Appropriations Public Safety Committee to share their recommendations.

Under his plan to demolish the Stateville and Logan prisons, the governor has pledged that correctional officers won't lose their jobs.

"We absolutely are keeping all of our corrections officers," Pritzker said. "We want to make sure that they stay on duty and are working with us as we make these changes. And they'll be working either at Stateville, as we're building the new facility on that same site, or at another facility where prisoners would be moving to. And the same thing with Logan."

However, with prison populations falling, the union representing officers has expressed grave concerns about any facilities being closed, with concerns that correctional officer layoffs could be inevitable.