Illinois Prison-Closing Plan Unnerves Small Town

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The southern Illinois town of Vandalia could be in economic danger because the state prison that has stood on its northern border for more than 80 years is due to close, says the Chicago Tribune. Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plans to close it to save money, potentially displacing 447 employees has unnerved the close-knit town.

The Tribune calls the case a textbook example of how state programs can take on a life beyond their intended purpose. Attempts to trim back can cause a ripple effect with consequences the fiscal experts don’t take into account.

Yesterday, hundreds of prison supporters descended on the statehouse as a House appropriations committee held hearings on the shutdown plan. “We just came here to beg for help,” said Dan Barenfanger, who has been a prison maintenance worker for 12 years. “It would be devastating. I’d have to relocate. There just aren’t the jobs in our area to support a family.”

Committee members of both parties questioned whether shutting down the prison would reap the $32 million in annual savings the administration expects. Committee members also raised concerns about whether the closure would aggravate overcrowding in other state prisons.

Blagojevich says prisons should be built to house inmates, not to give an economic boost to communities. That does not sit well in Vandalia, where the official population of 7,000 includes the prison’s 1,500 inmates.

Link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/printedition/chi-0405060124may06,1,819749.story?coll=chi-printmetro-he

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