SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The maximum-security women's prison in Dwight will close by month's end in a complex shift of inmates that involves the conversion of a men's prison to a penitentiary for women and the transfer of hundreds of overflow inmates to other lockups around the state, according to a timeline obtained by The Associated Press Tuesday.
Gymnasiums outfitted as temporary quarters at six prisons started receiving 600 inmates last week, according to the memo prepared by the Illinois Department of Corrections. A spokeswoman confirmed the itinerary but said it could change for any number of reasons, including weather.
The closing curtain for the Livingston County lockup ends a year of acrimonious debate over the wisdom of shutting prisons, as Gov. Pat Quinn says he must save money in a budget crisis. He won a lawsuit with the prison workers' union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, to close Dwight and the high-security penitentiary in Tamms, which was shuttered Jan. 4.
Dwight's closure means emptying the Logan Correctional Center, located in Lincoln, of its male inmates. It will become a women's prison and combine the populations of Dwight and Lincoln Correctional Center, which is also located in the city of Lincoln, near the Logan lockup. The other women's prison is in Decatur.
A "swap" of 1,000 men and 1,000 women between Logan and Lincoln is scheduled for March 12, IDOC spokeswoman Stacey Solano confirmed Tuesday night.
"This (plan) will allow the department to better serve its female offenders in two prisons rather than three and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually," Solano said.
AFSCME condemned the plan, particularly because it means turning gyms into inmate dormitories at a time when the prison system, designed for 33,000 inmates, holds 49,000. When shown the memo Tuesday, spokesman Anders Lindall confirmed it is the document IDOC gave to union leaders.
"This plan underscores our concern that any closures, given the existing overcrowding, will impact and destabilize the entire system," Lindall said.
According to Corrections' numbers, Logan's population is about 1,300 men. Lincoln Correctional Center has 995 women and Dwight 933.
The timeline indicates that this week, male prisoners have begun moving from Logan to penitentiaries in Canton, Centralia, Danville, Hillsboro, and Vienna. Lower-security inmates moved to Vandalia prison last week. The memo says administrators at those facilities are instructed to identify 100 prisoners "for dorm-style housing within their gymnasiums." After placement, the newcomers from Logan would take their cells.
Dwight inmates would start moving next week, too — in groups of 50 to 100 — making the 89-mile trip to Logan a dozen times through March 30.
Corrections officials confirmed last month that temporary bed space would be set up in gymnasiums at the six prisons, but refused to say whether the change was tied to Dwight's closure and the need to make room for displaced inmates at Logan.
Solano said last month that the need for temporary housing in gyms would decline in coming months.
But Lindall pointed out that IDOC's own projection, released last month, shows the overall prison population will be higher at the end of 2013 than it is now.
John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group that supported closing Tamms but opposes Dwight's shutdown, said last month the temporary quarters are unsafe and that "bed space (is) trumping security and operations."