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Report Faults State For Closing Women's Prison

Logan Correctional Center
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Illinois’ main prison for women has nearly 2,000 inmates. An outside monitor says that’s the result of poor planning when Illinois closed the prison at Dwight nearly two years ago.

The majority of Illinois female inmates are incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center in central Illinois.

John Howard Association director John Maki says the state ought not be housing 1,985 women in a prison built to hold 1,106.

“We’ve exacerbated overcrowded conditions, and damaged IDOC’s capacity to address the needs of female inmates,” Maki says.

But Illinois prison spokesman Tom Shaer says the move will save $48 million through the end of the current budget year. He also says in a year and a half, there’s only been one staff injury and two inmate attacks.

“I don’t know how this can be anything other than a success financially, and in terms of safety and security," Shaer says.

With Logan's population at nearly 180 percent of its design capacity, Maki used the report to repeat his longstanding argument that the state will eventually have to reduce its prison population, whether by choice or by court order.

"The longer we let this fester, the longer we don’t address prison overcrowding, the stronger the invitation becomes for the federal courts to do it for us," Maki says.

But Shaer says using the design-capacity metric is outdated, because it’s based on a time when each prisoner had her own cell, rather than the current standard of two-to-a-cell.

“The Illinois Department of Corrections is not overcrowded. It is crowded, but not overcrowded. And there’s a difference," Shaer says.

Both Shaer and Maki say the Department of Corrections would benefit from greater state funding for prisons and fewer new inmates coming into the system.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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