In an effort to find out what is actually happening with the Pontiac and Vandalia prisons, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have called for a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and House Appropriations- Public Safety Committees.
“The Pritzker administrations has not been transparent or forthcoming about what if any long-term plans are in place for Illinois prisons, which is a major reason why this process needs legislative oversight,” said State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). “The Pontiac Correctional Center is an important economic and employment anchor for the region. Any discussion about the future of the facility should have all of the stakeholders at the table.”
“Director Jeffreys has said there is a vision and a plan for the Department in general and the Pontiac prison specifically, but the Pontiac community needs to know what that plan is. We have invited him to come and explain his vision, but he has declined to do so,” said State Representative Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City). “PCC is a critical part of the Livingston County Community. The communication from the Department to the affected members of the public has been very poor and needs to improve.”
Serious concerns about the futures of the two facilitates came about due to significant numbers of recent unannounced transfers of prisoners out of the prisons. A leaked document soon began circulating that listed plans for partial closures at both facilities. While the Pritzker administration denied that the document was anything more than an internal draft, Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) Director Dr. Rob Jeffreys confirmed that to lawmakers during a web call that the leaked information was indeed correct and reflected the plans of the administration.
“The Vandalia Correctional Center is one of the largest employers in the area, serving as an economic anchor for the surrounding communities, just as most prisons are for the areas where they are located. Any changes to these facilities could have absolutely devastating effects to the local economies,” said State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia). “We need to know what the administration’s vision is for the correctional system and we need to make sure that all the stakeholders are at the table when that vision becomes a concrete plan.”
“For weeks, I have said that Director Jeffreys needs to visit the Vandalia Correctional Center to see the operation, to answer questions, and be accountable to the correctional officers and staff serving at Vandalia,” said Representative Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City). “The hard working people at DOC and the community at large deserve better than to be left to wonder what the future holds. Governor Pritzker and Director Jeffreys owe us answers.”
During the recent web call with lawmakers, the IDOC Director agreed to take part in town halls in both communities to update the members of the public on plans for the facilities. When the legislators contacted him to set dates for the events, the Director refused to honor his earlier commitment and said he would be unavailable to take part.
“The Pontiac prison is close to my district and employs a number of my constituents. Any time we are proposing changes to state policy or law that affect the employment of hundreds of people or more, we should be very deliberate and transparent so we can fully understand the reasoning and end result. I join my colleagues from the areas around these prisons with a bipartisan message: on behalf of our constituents, please join us to explain publicly the plans for these two prisons. It’s the least we can do when making these important decisions,” said Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa.
“Changes at these prisons will present immediate and long-term consequences for these regions. Constituents in the affected areas deserve transparency and answers about why this is happening,” said Representative Jackie Haas (R-Kankakee). “When the state makes a decision of such caliber, it is important that we include the public in the process and allow them to see how and why these decisions were made.”
“Communities like Pontiac need to know what direction is the Department of Corrections and the Governor’s office heading, with respect to the long term plan for our prisons,” said Representative Dan Brady (R-Bloomington).
Due to the clear issues with conflicting information from the Pritzker administration, and the IDOC Director’s refusal to engage the public on the agency’s plans, the legislators have officially called for a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and House Appropriations- Public Safety Committees. Such a hearing would require the administration to discuss their plans publicly.
“The Department of Correction’s inability to provide a clear and consistent answer regarding their future plans for the Vandalia and Pontiac Correctional Facilities is yet another example of the Administration’s pattern of secrecy when it comes to correctional facilities,” said State Senator Terri Bryant (R-Bryant). “For years, I have been seeking answers from IDOC about their plans for facilities within my district, with little to no answers. This Administration cannot be allowed to continuously ignore these important questions.”
“The complete lack of transparency and contradictory statements about the Pontiac and Vandalia Correctional Facilities has created unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty for both their employees and local communities,” said Senate Deputy Minority Leader Sue Rezin (R-Morris). “I believe it is appropriate and necessary for the General Assembly to hold a joint hearing so that we can obtain clear and precise answers regarding the Administration’s future plans for these facilities.”
“Changes of such magnitude at the Pontiac and Vandalia Prisons without any form of explanation or transparency is unacceptable,” said Representative David Welter (R-Morris). “It is urgent that the Governor provides the public with an explanation regarding these changes immediately. If thousands of people could be impacted, the very least they deserve is open communication.”
A Town Hall meeting is scheduled for May 10th in Pontiac, where legislators plan to provide updates to members of the community. A similar event is being planned for Vandalia.