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The Hardin County Work Camp closed in December 2015.

ELIZABETHTOWN — The Illinois Department of Corrections now has the authority to sell the shuttered Hardin County Work Camp to the county for $1, a move that enables officials to move forward with a plan to reopen the facility as a multi-county jail.

Outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday signed a bill to allow the sale.

Efforts began last year to repurpose the former work camp as a multi-county correctional facility. Hardin County Sheriff Jerry Fricker said in September it could be a big help not just to his county, which has a six-bed jail facility, but also to surrounding counties that don't have their own jails.

“If we were able to come up with a bigger facility, it wouldn’t only help us, but neither Pope nor Gallatin County has a jail at this time,” he said, adding that they would have the option to use the new Hardin County facility as it has been proposed.

Fricker said the renovated facility would house between 75 and 100 beds, which could also be a revenue generator for the county.

The standard has been for counties to pay about $35 a day to house an inmate at the state level, Fricker said last year. He added that the county also has considered signing on to house federal inmates, which in other counties is almost double the state rate.

Jessica Fricker is the jail coordinator for the project, and said she is thrilled with the new legislation.

“We are beyond excited. This is a big opportunity for our community,” she said. It had been previously estimated that the new multi-county jail facility could bring as many as 20 jobs.

“That’s really what’s needed most in this area,” Fricker said.

As for next steps, Fricker said she is currently working with grant writers to apply for funding to do the needed renovations — though she said there isn’t a firm estimate on how much they need.

The old minimum security facility, which shuttered in late 2015 from a funding shortage, will need to be updated to increase security and meet state mandates for jails, Jerry Fricker said last year.

Jessica Fricker also said IDOC has been working with the county to begin the transfer of the property.

In all, Fricker said the project should move pretty quickly with the bill signing being one of the last major hurdles.

Pope County Sheriff Jerry Suits said he is excited just to have another option for where to send his prisoners. He said Hardin County would be nominally farther to drive than Massac or Saline counties, where he currently houses prisoners, but if those facilities are full, this would certainly be a welcome option.

The bill marks one of the last pieces of legislation Rauner will sign during his tenure in office.

“We need to continue to work together, create jobs, and grow Illinois’ economy for all the people of our great state,” Rauner said in a news release from state Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg.

Fowler was the chief sponsor of the legislation and says in the press release that it was a great way to close out a session in the General Assembly.

“I’m excited that we ended the 100th General Assembly by pushing for development and job creation in Southern Illinois,” Fowler said.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Jackson County.

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