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Pontiac Correctional Center

A file photo of the Pontiac Correctional Center, among the prisons notified about unsafe water.

Charles Rex Arbogast

Report finds Logan, Pontiac and Stateville prisons nearly inoperable

The final report from a consulting firm hired by the state has found three of Illinois’ 27 prison facilities, including the Pontiac and Logan correctional centers, approaching “inoperable,” and a list of more than $2.5 billion in overdue repairs in aging institutions across the state.

CGL Companies warns in the report initially released in May that the existing price tag of “deferred maintenance” at Illinois prisons could double in five years if unaddressed. Significant deterioration was reported at all prisons, with only three of 27 prisons ranked in the “fully operational range,” and the remainder in the “impaired operation range.” Pontiac, Logan and Joliet’s Stateville were categorized as nearly inoperable.

About 9,600 prisoners, or 20% of the state’s prison population, are still housed in prisons dating back to the 1800s. Facilities constructed between 1970 and 2000 house 30,486 prisoners, about 65% of the overall prison census.

The report notes Pontiac’s history as the second oldest prison in the state, with two cellhouses built in 1892 when the facility served as the State Reformatory for Youth. With $235 million in needed repairs, the Livingston County prison is near the top of the list for deferred maintenance. Pontiac also has the highest operational cost of $65,800 per inmate, double the agency’s average, according to the report.

Consultants noted that all state prisons struggle to hire and retain staff but Pontiac’s vacancy rate of more than 48% for correctional officers and 42% for all staff, set it apart from other facilities.

Chicago attorney Alan Mills, an advocate for prison reform who works on litigation aimed at improving prison conditions, is calling on the state to address the deficiencies outlined in the report and seriously consider closing Pontiac and the Logan’s prison for women.

Mills and a team of lawyers has been involved in litigation for more than a decade against the state over the lack of mental health services offered to inmates. As part of a settlement agreement, the state opened four residential treatment units, including one in Pontiac. Consultants were critical of the state plan to add hundreds of additional staff and areas for mental health services in old and overcrowded buildings.

Pontiac is unsuitable for providing mental health services, said Mills.

“It’s not at all surprising that Pontiac is on that list. And it goes to show what we’ve said all along, which is that rather than investing what money they had invested in Pontiac, to sort of jury-rig mental health stuff that should be somewhere else, Pontiac should not be used for that. And frankly, Pontiac should be closed,” said Mills.

In its summary on the Logan Correctional Center, the report said, “Many aspects of facility are severely deficient and need replaced.” Housing units “are in poor condition and not supportive of rehabilitative environment as most were designed as patient wards and not correctional housing,” consultants found.

Images from a state facility condition assessment at Pontiac Correctional Center show dilapidated floors and showers.

Images from a state facility condition assessment at Pontiac Correctional Center show dilapidated floors and showers. A consulting company hired by the state recommends shrinking the capacity at Pontiac because of the facility’s age, high operation costs and difficulty hiring staff.

The female facility was first used as the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in the 1870s before it was transferred to the IDOC in 1978 for use as a men’s prison. It was later converted to a women’s prison that housed about 900 women at the time of the survey.

The consultants found that deteriorating conditions at the women’s prison based in Lincoln makes it a better candidate for closure than renovation. Moving the female population to the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton is a better option, said the report. The cost of converting space for the new female unit was estimated at $12 million, compared to the $116 million needed for repairs at Logan.

The maximum security Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet is slated to transition to a multi-custody facility with an emphasis on reentry but significant infrastructure issues with the facility do not support such a transition by the state, according to the report.

The long -standing building issues at Stateville were cited in the facility review: “Most areas displayed leaks and water penetration, peeling paint, and floors in such poor condition that they could result in injury.”

Most of the state’s facilities were constructed before federal ADA rules and were designed for populations other than inmates, the report noted, making new construction a better option than renovation in many cases.

Opportunity for change

The 44% drop in the inmate population from nearly 50,000 in 2012 to about 28,000 in 2021 “provides an opportunity to right-size the agency, reducing outdated, ineffective and costly-to-operate buildings and updating some of the remaining to better support IDOC goals,” consultants concluded.

The lower number of inmates is likely to create excess prison capacity for male medium security beds, leaving open the possibility for shifting inmates to other facilities better suited to their needs.

Consultants recommend, for example, that the women housed at Logan be moved to a male medium security prison with available space.

At Pontiac, consultants recommend further reductions in prison capacity as a way to reduce operational costs and more effectively match staffing levels with inmate ratios. An excess in male maximum security capacity in the state system would allow the reduction, said the report.

New housing at Stateville is being proposed to provide dayroom space, ample cell size and office space for counselors and support staff. Other recommendations include a pilot program for vacant buildings at Stateville.

“The Quarterhouse and X-House at Stateville are not suitable for any 21st century correctional center,” said the report, noting the 1800-era correctional design of the Quarterhouse. To meet the future needs of inmates, consultants suggested renovations for a vocational training program.

Meeting special needs

From county jails to prisons, correctional facilities at all levels are being used as mental health providers as a growing number of inmates enter the system with a mental health diagnosis. Complicating the issue of deteriorating and inefficient buildings is the fact that about 12,000 Illinois detainees have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Storage closets and breakrooms are among the places consultants found mental health staff working in Illinois prisons. Court mandates to improve medical and mental health services and segregation practices have impacted the policies and care prison staff must provide, said the report, but putting those requirements into practice is difficult in existing facilities.

CGL Companies endorse recommendations in another study that calls for new or renovated space at 11 facilities for mental health treatment. A total of 200 additional offices and workspaces would be added to the existing facilities.

Prisons and politics

The huge capital outlays required to meet the recommendations outlined in the report will be the responsibility of state lawmakers who control agency budgets. So far, no plans to address the deficiencies have been put forward by the governor’s office or the legislature.

The facilities report did not address the political implications of closing prisons that drive the economies in the communities where they are located. If past discussions on the potential closure of Pontiac’s prisons are an indication of future reactions, any attempt to shutter the facility would likely face serious pushback from AFSCME, the union that represents prison workers, as well as community leaders.

The status quo of operating facilities deemed inefficient and inoperable is not an option for lawmakers, said Mills.

“What I’m calling on them to do is not just dump money into the system. What I’m calling on them to do is to ensure that our taxpayer’s money is well spent, and not just dumping money into a failed system, failed prisons,” said Mills.

Requests for comment to the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Pritzker administration have not been returned.

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