SPRINGFIELD — The mastermind of a proposal to start using a part of the recently shuttered Dwight Correctional Center says the plan could get rolling within the next 60 days.

Livingston County Sheriff Marty Meredith told the Lee Enterprises Springfield Bureau that he thinks he may be able to strike a deal with the state in a meeting next week to begin using one of the cell houses at the formerly all-female prison to house out-of-county prisoners.

“It’s moving along quite well,” Meredith said of the talks between the county and the Quinn administration.

Dwight, the state’s only maximum-security lock-up for women, was closed earlier this year as part of a budget cutting maneuver pushed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

While Meredith’s plan wouldn’t replace the 300-plus jobs lost when the prison closed, it would require him to hire about 40 additional employees. In addition, he believes the arrangement — if approved — could generate as much as $1.5 million for the county.

Under the plan, Livingston County would take over a building on the 100-acre grounds known as the “X-House” because of its shape. He would then house as many as 300 prisoners from the federal prison system, Cook County and other counties that might be interested.

The building, built in 1997, is among the newest on the grounds of the 82-year-old prison complex.

Along with Dwight, Quinn closed prisons and other state facilities in Tamms, Murphysboro, Decatur, Carbondale and Jacksonville. He is in the process of shuttering a developmental center in Centralia. Officials say no plans are in the works thus far for re-purposing those other facilities.

Meredith said he is hoping to keep the Dwight project on a fast track.

“If we’re not going to do it here in Livingston County… then someone else is going to do it,” Meredith said.

Details of a lease agreement between the state and the county are being negotiated.

The proposal has the support of top brass at the Illinois Department of Corrections.

“IDOC Director S.A. ‘Tony’ Godinez is interested in practical new ideas that work for the communities and counties we serve,” spokesman Tom Shaer said in an email.

kurt.erickson@lee.net / 217-782-4043

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