MURPHYSBORO — A year after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner announced plans to create a re-entry center in Southern Illinois for inmates returning to the community, the facility in Murphysboro is still working to open.
On Oct. 14, 2016, the governor traveled to Murphysboro, holding a press conference and touring the shuttered former Illinois Youth Center on the northeast edge of Murphysboro. The governor announced the reopening as part of prison reform in the state. Built in 1997, the center was closed in 2011.
Questions about the facility's status and possible opening date were answered with a general response from Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Dede Short.
"The Illinois Department of Corrections still plans to open a Life Skills Re-entry Center in Murphysboro, but there are no new details to report at this time," Short wrote in an email to The Southern.
A sign reading "State of Illinois Department of Corrections Murphysboro Re-Entry Center" was on the front lawn of the facility Thursday.
At last October's press conference, the governor said the new center would house about 300 prisoners who are scheduled to re-enter the community and employ about 120 people. It will be managed under the Pinckneyville Correctional Center.
At the event that day were Illinois 115th District Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and Mayor Will Stephens, who both said they had no word about when the project was set to be completed. Almost a year before the 2016 press conference, in November 2015, Bryant had called for the closed facility to be reopened as an adult work camp.
During the 2016 news conference, the governor said the center should never have been closed, drawing applause from some in the audience.
He said this site was chosen over the Hardin County Work Camp because this one was much better maintained. The Hardin County site, he said, would cost too much money to repurpose.
The Murphysboro facility would cost $800,000 to reopen and repurpose, a Rauner press secretary said.
Stephens said he was never given a firm date for the reopening, but does know work has occurred there.
He said $100,000 has been spent on upgrading the facility, and that new beds, kitchen freezers, and other items have been moved into the facility. Stephens said the security system has been updated with new computers and cameras.
"The pace does concern me," Stephens said. "Murphysboro needs the jobs, and more importantly the inmates need a legitimate second chance. The longer the reopening of the facility is delayed, the less-equipped parolees are to re-enter our communities. In turn, that makes our communities throughout Illinois less safe."