Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Efforts to Save Stateville

The City Council is paving the way for the closing of Stateville. Their resolution last night might as well have been a white flag of surrender. They said how the closing will hurt Crest Hill, they talked about broken agreements, and asked for everyone to support keeping the prison. They did not however make a case for how the State benefits from keeping Stateville open and they did not make any move to enforce their past agreements.

I spent a year going toe-to-toe with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections over a prison several years ago and have spoken with other cities that have fought for prisons in various states, so I have some knowledge of what works and what does not. In the end the State does not care if the jobs are in Crest Hill or some town somewhere else, they do not care if a few hundred local people write them letters, or if inmates are a bit more overcrowded. They do care about how much it costs them to run a prison. The city needs to dive into the numbers to make their case. They need to prove that it makes financial sense to keep Stateville open and if that case cannot be made then they need to show what can be changed to make it possible.
A financial strategy focused on the State's pocketbook has been a part of every similar long term victory when a city fights a State Department of Corrections.

The other keys are to make the case visible State-wide and to enforce contracts. If they agreed to buy a certain amount of water and have a certain amount of sewerage, then hold them to that regardless of actual use. Let them pay for an empty prison if that is what they want. And if we cannot convince residents of all areas of Illinois why Stateville needs to remain open, we stand no chance of convincing the Governor and State Legislature.

The best the city can hope for with their current strategy is to keep Stateville off the chopping block until the next budget and then fight this battle again, eventually losing. If we are serious about wanting to keep Stateville open then it is time to make a serious effort.