MURPHYSBORO — Standing at the front, cordoned-off entrance to the former Illinois Youth Center, State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, shared plans for the facility to be reopened and converted into a work camp for adults.
Bryant's announcement came Thursday afternoon before a small crowd that included some Murphysboro and Jackson County officials, a handful of corrections officers and a candidate for the 58th Senate District seat, Sharee Langenstein.
The facility, which was opened in 1997. was closed in 2013 as a cost-saving measure by then-Governor Pat Quinn. That facility could house 150 juveniles and employed up to 135 people.
"I have introduced legislation that would provide the funding and administrative support necessary to re-open and repurpose this institution as an adult correctional facility," Bryant said of House Bill 4340. "(Former Governor) Pat Quinn's mistake needs to be corrected so we can reduce the overcrowding in our correctional facilities across the state."
Bryant said the state's prisons are operating at 150 percent of their capacity, meaning the repurposed facility would help ease overcrowding and make it safer for the prison corrections officers. In fiscal year 2014, the state had 48,653 inmates in 25 facilities, with a staff of about 10,800 overseeing them, according to the National Institute of Corrections. That was on a budget of $1.37 billion.
She also announced her support for the Hardin County Work Camp and said that she is working to create a Task Force on Work Camp Rehabilitation that would study the effectiveness of work camps in the state. That is reflected in House Joint Resolution 105.
That task force's findings would be due in January 2017.
Work camps, she said, help reduce recidivism. She also said she had plans for working with an institution like Southern Illinois University, to offer vocational educational and other training in the former juvenile facility.
The Hardin County Work Camp is one facility Gov. Bruce Rauner has planned to close by the end of this year; the number of inmates at that facility has been reduced to 85, down from the 260 who were there when the governor first came into office.
Rep. Brandon Phelps is a co-sponsor on both of the bills.
"I think it's wonderful," Murphysboro resident Carolyn Cano, a visitor at the event, said. "It's going to get employment that we don't have here in Murphysboro."
A spokesman for Gov. Rauner said the governor had no comment when asked if he supported that proposal or had other plans for the facility.