Watson continues to fight proposed VCC cuts

The Illinois Department of Corrections is continuing to propose the shutdown of farming operations at Vandalia Correctional Center.

And state Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville) is continuing to lead the battle to prevent that from happening.

Watson, the Illinois Senates minority leader, said late Wednesday morning that he will be meeting with IDOC officials on Thursday to present his arguments for not eliminating farming operations at VCC.

Watson learned in January that the agency had reduced the herd at the VCC farm by about 50, from 190 to 140, and that it has plans to both eliminate the herd and lease some of the land currently used for farming operations at the prison.

The good news from the new state budget presented by Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week is that VCC is scheduled to receive a funding increase of about 5 percent in the new fiscal year.

That increase, Watson said, basically covers cost-of-living increases incurred by the state in such areas as salaries and benefits of employees. It also includes minimal staffing increases, Watson said.

It does not, he said, call for the hiring of additional correctional officers.

But the increase does, Watson pointed out, show evidence that there is no move to shut down Vandalia Correctional Center.

However, the IDOC does want to discontinue the VCC farming operations, he said.

I have received repeated assurances that there will be no positions eliminated, Watson said, and there has been no final decision.

But weve had a difficult time getting details (about the farming finances) from the agency, he said. Thats just the way this administration has been.

Watson said he has taken his case to Blagojevich. Ive talked to him about the importance of rehabilitation that this (farming) offers to a number of inmates, the good things that come from this.

This agency is supposed to be about teaching inmates such things as life skills, and the farming operations at Vandalia Correctional Center do a good job of that, he said.

The inmates who work at the farm learn a trade, something that they can use when they are released from prison, something that can help prevent them from returning to prison, Watson said.

He said that agency officials have told him that its proposal could result in a savings of $400,000. But Watson finds that hard to believe.

With the price of grain and the price of dairy products, there is no reason that they cant make money with the farm, Watson said.

Weve got a counter proposal that I will present to them (IDOC officials) on Thursday, he said.

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