Southern Illinois prison staff concerned about next round of Pontiac transfers

SPRINGFIELD — Fallout from Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s push to close Pontiac Correctional Center is now raining on Pinckneyville.

Workers at the medium-security lockup are up in arms over a plan to transfer up to 160 inmates to the southern Illinois facility next week.

They worry whether the prison is equipped to deal with the influx.

“We don’t have procedures in place. We don’t have the staffing. We don’t have the equipment,” said Randy Hellmann, a supply superintendent at the 2,000-inmate prison.

The additional prisoners are being sent from the medium-security Lawrence Correctional Center, which then would have extra space to accept inmates being moved out of Pontiac.

The department wouldn’t confirm the connection between closing Pontiac and the inmates heading to Pinckneyville, but it comes just a week after the agency transferred 100 inmates out of Pontiac and into prisons in East Moline and Taylorville.

State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said there is little doubt about what’s happening.

“Is this part of closing Pontiac? I think it is,” said Luechtefeld, who visited the prison in Pinckneyville on Wednesday.

“We are seeing the domino effect of the department’s plan to close Pontiac,” added Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

The Blagojevich administration estimates closing Pontiac will save taxpayers $4 million a year, even though local officials say it will devastate the Livingston County economy, which has relied on the prison for 137 years.

AFSCME, which represents prison workers, is raising concerns about the effects of the move on Pinckneyville, which will require some inmates to share cells. Hellmann, president of AFSCME Local 943, said workers haven’t been trained to handle inmates housed two to a cell.

Luechtefeld and Hellmann said Wednesday they were rebuffed in their request to slow down the transfers.

AFSCME and a host of state lawmakers contend the state should open Thomson and keep Pontiac operating as a way to ease overcrowded conditions throughout the prison system.

Corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp said, “It still is our plan to close Pontiac and open Thomson.”

source: http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2008/10/23/news/doc48ffac984e09c977133335.txt

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