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Dwight prison slated to close on March 31

Mayor calls news ‘devastating’

(MCT) DWIGHT — After more than a year of waiting and wondering, people working at the Dwight Correctional Center now know when they could see the inside of the facility for the last time.

The unofficial target date for closing the prison is March 31, according to a timeline reported by the Associated Press. A budget proposal by Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled Wednesday leaves the facility unfunded.

According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, of the 350 Dwight employees, 12 have retired or resigned; 19 selected layoffs. The remaining employees have taken vacant positions at other facilities.

Mayor Bill Wilkey repeated Wednesday that the effect on Dwight will likely be “devastating.” The past year’s anticipation of the closure, and the town’s fight to keep it open, also have weighed on those who work there, or whose businesses are supported by having the facility in town.

“It was a year in February when they called me and said they were planning on closing Dwight,” said Wilkey. “These people have been in limbo for a long time, and it’s really sad for them.”

Wilkey said Dwight is moving forward with an eye to the employment concerns of those affected by the closure.

“We’ve got to identify who’s actually going to be out of work,” Wilkey said. “Basically, we are going to try to set something up so these people have some chance to further themselves in the workforce.”

The impact on workers was taken into consideration, said IDOC spokeswoman Stacey Solano.

“The department made every effort to minimize the impact of the Dwight closure on its employees by offering every employee another vacancy in the department,” she said. “Filling these vacancies will increase staffing levels in existing facilities while decreasing the need for overtime.”

Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that represents Dwight employees, said the exact closure date isn’t yet certain, as the department continues addressing the logistical concerns surrounding the decision.

“We have not seen a formal notice of closure, which is required under our contract,” Lindall said. “They’ve got to empty out Logan (Correctional Center to make way for Dwight inmates) ... something they haven’t started to do yet. I don’t know where they stand on actually making that happen.”

Lindall and Wilkey said safety concerns, both for inmates and employees, are called into question in light of some inmates at Logan needing to be housed in gymnasiums as part of the transition, among other measures.

“I think the specifics of their plan underscore all our concerns, and the reason to support our position to keep the prison open,” Lindall said. “When you close one prison in a vastly overcrowded system, you destabilize and impact many others.”

©2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)
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