State Sen. Frank Watson acknowledges that since Gov. Rod Blagojevich was unsuccessful in his attempt to close Vandalia Correctional Center three years ago, rumors about cutbacks and closures at VCC ‘have run rampant.’
But Watson, the Greenville Republican who serves as the Illinois Senate minority leader, found out Tuesday that there’s some truth to the latest report of a cutback at the local prison. And Watson said he told IDOC officials that afternoon that he wants some details about the agency’s plans.
Watson said Wednesday morning that he scheduled a meeting with agency representatives after hearing from Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman and some VCC employees a claim that IDOC was reducing the dairy heard and planning to lease state farmland at VCC.
Watson said that while touring VCC several months ago, he was told that two long-time employees in industries at the prison were retiring at the end of the year, and that there were hopes that the state would hire their successors in time to gain some knowledge about the operations before the retirees left.
Then, he began hearing the rumor about cutbacks in industries at VCC. That spurred his meeting on Tuesday with Rich Manteno and Sergio Molina.
At that meeting, the IDOC officials told Watson that the agency is, indeed, looking at cutbacks in industries. ‘They claim that they can realize a savings of $400,000, Watson said. And I take exception to that, he said, explaining that he told Manteno and Molina that he wants to see profit and loss statements for the dairy and farming operations at VCC.
Last year was a very good year for agriculture, a lot of people will tell you that, Watson said. What I told them (Manteno and Molina) was, Lets see the details.
Watson said the fact that IDOC has reduced the dairy herd by 45 within the past year (dropping it to 125) is evidence that the agency is moving toward significant cutbacks at VCC.
While disputing the agencys claim that the industries section of the prison is losing money, Watson also touted the value of the farm program, and other programs, at state prisons.
I asked them what the mission of the agency is, and they agreed that it includes safety (of inmates and employees), rehabilitation of inmates and reducing recidivism.
I told them, Thats my point. You have 25-30 inmates here who are learning a trade.
There is a huge need for people in agriculture, and these inmates who learn agricultural trades can go out into the work force after theyre released from prison.
I told them that as an example, the inmates working on the farmland plant a seed and see it grow they can actually see the value of their work. They learn a craft and gain an appreciation for their work, Watson said.
He said that the two IDOC representatives told him that they could have financial details about the industries program at VCC as early as the end of this week.
It was important for me to talk to them about what Id been hearing, to find out what I could and let them know that were going to keep a close eye on whats being planned, Watson said.