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A gubernatorial candidate who played a key role in preventing the closure of Vandalia Correctional Center a decade ago said earlier this week that he has a plan to prevent surprise announcement on closures of any state facility.
Dan Rutherford, a longtime state legislator who currently serves as Illinois treasurer, visited Vandalia last week as part of a tour to announce that plan.
Rutherford said that because of his background, as both a legislator and someone working in the private sector, he is the best-qualified among gubernatorial candidates to implement such a plan.
Explaining the reasoning for his plan, Rutherford said that he sat in a joint session of the General Assembly “when Rod Blagojevich stood there and announced that he was going to close Vandalia (Correctional Center).”
At the same time, Blagojevich announced the closure of the “roundhouse” cell house at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet.
A few weeks later, he said, legislators were deciding whether they should “have the ability to recall a governor.
“I believe that you should have that ability, but with an extremely high standard, a very high bar … difficult, not something you can do on a political whim.”
Rutherford voted in favor of that proposal, while a legislator from Joliet voted “present.”
Shortly after that, Rutherford said, Blagojevich announced that he would not close the “roundhouse,” but the state prison in Pontiac, where Rutherford resides.
“I thought, first of all, the (state’s) prison system is overcroweded, and there’s nothing to this from an objective policy standpoint – it was political,” Rutherford said.
Then, he said, Blagojevich’s successor, Pat Quinn, announced his plan to close several state facilities, including prisons in Dwight and Murphysboro, as well as some boot camps and mental health facilities.
“I was shocked,” Rutherford said.
“I do believe that the governor should have the authority to close a facility – I wouldn’t want to take that authority away,” he said.
“But, in the same vein, it needs to be through a process which we have today,” he said, referring to the state’s commission on accountability.
“The standard and bar (for closure) has to be very high,” Rutherford said.
“I believe we need to have long-range, strategic planning for our facilities.
“I said this back when we were dealing with Vandalia (Correctional Center), when we were dealing with Dwight (Correctional Center), the Murray Center (in Centralia),” he said.
“As the governor, there will not be bombshell announcements. I will instruct my director of corrections, and mental health, and each of the state agencies, to put together a long-range strategic plan for each of our state facilities,” Rutherford said.
“That may mean that a state facility maybe is not going to continue in the mission that it is deployed at today,” he said.
If a facility is to be closed, he said, the state should consider, “What is it you could or should transition it to for it to be a valuable asset to the people of Illinois,” Rutherford said.
The closure of Sheridan Correctional Center, he said, “is a perfect example” of what he’s talking about.
“In doing that, there was no plan – (the state) basically (just) closed the facility. The people in that community either lost their job or were transported somewhere else,” he said.
“The correctional system, which was already overcrowded, had to absorb more inmates, and the property, the asset of the people, sat there (unused).
“It still cost the taxpayers. You still had to have somebody make sure the roof wasn’t leaking, that mold wasn’t developing, that rats weren’t running through the hallways … and the grass still had to be mowed,” Rutherford said.
“Almost two years later, it was deployed to be used as a drug rehab facility, and my understanding is that it’s meeting a good mission,” he said.
“My point is, a community and an asset took almost two years to be put into a purpose of use,” Rutherford said.
If he’s elected, Rutherford said, “We will do a strategic, long-range plan for Vandalia and on Pontiac and on Tamms, and if we need improvements of the physical infrastructure, let’s plan that out.
“If we need to look at the mission into which it’s going to be deployed, let’s look at that,” Rutherford said.
“The population in our correctional facilities is dramatically overcrowded. There are 49,000 inmates in a system designed for 32,000.
“This is not safe for the employees or those incarcerated. Proper planning needs to be in place,” Rutherford said.
“And, as our governor of Illinois, I am best versed to address that, with the background I’ve got,” he said.