Prison Closing Could Wreck Pontiac, Il., Economy

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Illinois officials are talking about shutting down the 133-year-old Pontiac Correctional Center, one of the state’s largest prisons, says the Chicago Tribune. For the city of Pontiac, the parallels to the classic tale of a business closure are striking, as state officials find themselves in financial trouble and search for ways to reduce costs. Gov. Rod Blagojevich convenes a special session of the General Assembly today to try to close a hole of up to $2 billion in the $53 billion state budget. With many state programs already reduced, budget cutters are turning to prisons. Along with the 723-worker Pontiac prison, the governor and legislative leaders are considering closing prisons in Vandalia and St. Charles, which employ 447 and 307, respectively. The idea of closing the Pontiac prison, in a strongly Republican area, came from Democrats. Officials say they could save money by closing the aged Pontiac facility and moving its operations to Thomson, in northwest Illinois, where the state has a brand new prison built and ready to go. The Thomson prison can hold nearly twice as many inmates and has a design that requires fewer guards. In calculating whether it’s a sound money-saving decision, the state also must consider whether it will incur indirect costs in closing Pontiac, said Prof. Randall Kroszner of the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.

The loss of jobs would displace local workers and could raise state welfare costs. A spike in the local unemployment rate, which stands at 4.7 percent, could harm local businesses, which would reduce state tax revenue. Many local businesses rely almost entirely upon the prison, which often hires local plumbers, electricians, and other contractors. A local organization that employs developmentally disabled adults supplies the prison with “flex pens,” ink pens made of flexible material that prisoners can’t fashion into weapons.

Link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0406240386jun24,1,3096027.story?coll=chi-news-hed

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