Illinois Politics-Prison Shuffle Begins Anew


Four years ago, Illinois Gov. George Ryan said he would build a new prison in poverty-stricken Hopkins Park, just outside his hometown of Kankakee. Today, the project is abandoned, the Associated Press reports. Ryan predecessor Jim Edgar said in 1998 that he would build a prison to create jobs in a region where a federal Army depot had closed. The prison was built but never opened.

Current Gov. Rod Blagojevich has reopened a prison shut by Ryan has called for closing a prison in the district of one of his most vocal critics. The AP says the governor has launched “another round in the highly divisive, and often political, competition for the jobs and tax revenue that accompany state prisons. The communities losing prisons under the governor’s proposal are putting together a coalition of local officials, state lawmakers and union leaders in hopes of changing his mind.”

Some policymakers argue that decisions about opening and closing prisons should not depend on which town lobbies the hardest or where a governor needs votes. “I don’t see that this process has any integrity,” said Jim Thomas, a criminal justice professor at Northern Illinois University. The huge growth in prison population, now 53 percent more than the facilities were designed to hold, began slowing when state tax revenues bottomed out about four years ago.


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