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As final inmates leave, Dwight’s future uncertain

Businesses already seeing decline

(MCT) DWIGHT — Dwight resident John Moyemont chooses his words carefully when he discusses his hometown’s future, but the message is clear.

“Things are slowing up,” he said Friday morning, outside of J.T.’s Saloon, the downtown business he owns. “I’m a little worried.”

The state of Illinois made good on a March 31 deadline to close one of the city’s biggest employers, Dwight Correctional Center, a prison that housed 1,100 female inmates and employed 350 people. The prison, which sent its inmates to Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, was among several facilities ordered closed by Gov. Pat Quinn last year to save money.

“The last of the inmates were relocated on Tuesday,” said Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Stacey Solano. “The employees who transferred to other positions in the department will be reporting to their new assignments on either Monday or Tuesday.”

“I have had businesses in town since 1982 and my dad and my brothers have had businesses here since 1941 up until a few years ago,” Moyemont said. “If they say they are going to close the prison and then they go ahead and do that, why are people going to want to move here? What’s here now? It’s a scary thing.”

According to IDOC, of the 350 Dwight employees, 12 have retired or resigned and 19 accepted layoffs. The remaining 319 have taken vacant positions at other facilities.

“We are getting 148 employees from Dwight,” said Pontiac Correctional Center Warden Randy Pfister. “It will eliminate a lot of stress and a lot of overtime. It will assist us to be a little more security-minded and the addition of this staff is very welcomed.”

While that may solve some problems in Pontiac, it does little to help the village of Dwight, says Mayor Bill Wilkey. Many who remain employed by IDOC may move away, and those who stay but commute will spend more money in the community where they work.

Those who leave the prison system are facing the prospect of jobs that pay considerably less.

“A lot of them were able to get so much overtime out there and now, you just can’t find opportunities for them that are anything near that,” Wilkey said.

“It’s very, very discouraging,” Wilkey said of the closure.

Even the city will lose direct revenue, Wilkey said.

The prison paid the city for water usage — which translated to approximately $150,000 annually. Also, the ambulance handled about five to six calls per month at the prison, translating into a loss of another $40,000 per year.

“In our area, the prison also used a lot of private-contract vendors, and all of those vendors will be losing money as well,” said Adam Dontz, the CEO of the Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council. “Our concern is and always has been that this closure affects many more people than what first meets the eye.”

The state has projected that the closure of the Dwight prison and other facilities will save $37 million a year, but opponents of closing Dwight’s prison estimated local economic costs would exceed the state’s savings.

©2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)
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