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IDOC outlines plan to relocate Lincoln women's prison; staff, residents object

Several people sit at a table in front of a crowd.
Charlie Pujol
/
WGLT
IDOC representatives present their plan to relocate the Logan Correctional Center at a public hearing on Thursday, June 13, 2024, at Lincoln Junior High School.

The Illinois Department of Corrections outlined its reasons for relocating Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln at a public meeting Thursday, while giving residents and other stakeholders the opportunity to express their concerns about the planned reconstruction of the women's prison in northern Illinois.

Logan Correctional Center is the only facility in the state that can house female prisoners above minimal security. The state's other women’s prison, Decatur Corrections Center, is minimum security. The IDOC contends rebuilding and relocating Logan’s facility will benefit the 43% of inmates from the Cook County area.

IDOC acting director Latoya Hughes argued at the beginning of the meeting, held at Lincoln Junior High School, that a facility further north — possibly in Will County — would mean these inmates are closer to more robust rehabilitation services, broader health care access, and their own family members.

Hughes proposed the Decatur facility will continue to provide “continuity of care” to women from central and southern Illinois. She pointed out that most higher security inmates come from the Cook County area, meaning downstate inmates are more likely to be eligible for placement in Decatur.

Hughes emphasized the location for the new facility has not been finalized, and that any move would be years down the road.

Community members found this particularly frustrating because trying to staff a prison that is sure to close could make an already difficult staffing issue almost impossible.

The IDOC and several former inmates who spoke in favor of the plan referred to this as “regionalization,” where inmates are housed closer to where they have roots and family, making them more likely to complete successful reentry programs.

“The utilization of the concept of regionalization for the women’s facilities enhances women’s access to families, support services, vocational opportunities, and community resources, which helps to further ensure women’s success upon release, thus reducing recidivism,” said Hughes.

The former inmates who spoke were representing the Reclamation Project at the Women’s Justice Institute in Chicago. All of them were at one point housed in the Logan facility, and they spoke of unsafe, unsanitary, and degrading conditions there.

The women, who were in Logan Correctional at a range of times from 1999 to 2023, described the prison as infested with black mold, escaped sewage, and raccoons. The building itself was described as “crumbling,” with holes in the ceiling that let in the raccoons. The facility also is reportedly understaffed and suffering from an “abusive culture,” they said.

Comments also were read from two women who are at Logan Correctional. Both have been in various Illinois prisons for over 30 years, and each described the Logan facility as by far the worst they had experienced. The women described ice machines with feces in them and “dehumanizing illegal strip searches” conducted by staff.

Logan staff, residents urge keeping prison in Lincoln

Many members of the staff at the Logan facility also spoke at the meeting, and all agreed the building must be rebuilt due to the horrific conditions the women described.

However, they think Central Illinois is the best location because of the nearly 60% of inmates who do not hail from the Chicago area. Sending them to that part of the state presents similar challenges for them as the ones that IDOC is purporting to correct with the plan.

Many pointed out that only around 5% of the inmates currently housed in Logan would be eligible for transfer to Decatur, including the vast majority of inmates from central and southern Illinois. In addition to being minimum security, the Decatur facility houses a mother and baby program that necessitates that any inmate convicted of any offense related to children, regardless of severity, is ineligible to be housed there.

An employee of the Decatur facility echoed these concerns, saying that expanding the population at Decatur Corrections beyond what is currently allowed would put staff and current inmates in danger due to the low security infrastructure there, and the prison’s placement in the middle of a residential area.

Numerous residents spoke to the economic hardship that Lincoln would face should the Logan facility leave their town. Lincoln already has seen the loss of major employers in the area with the closing of both Lincoln College and Lincoln Christian University since the pandemic.

State Rep. Bill Hauter, a Republican who represents Logan County, also spoke, accusing IDOC of making the decision to move the facility and “coming up with the reasons” after the fact. He argued the move is not actually to help inmates, but to “reward more favorable political locations.”

“Regionalization is a buzzword that means bringing jobs and dollars to Chicago,” he said.

He and others also pointed out there are no plans to build more women’s facilities in central and southern Illinois, meaning that all non-minimum security inmates would have to be housed in northern Illinois.

Adeline Schultz is a correspondent at WGLT. She joined the station in 2024.