Livingston Co. Eyes Part Of Closed Dwight Prison To House Inmates
By Jeff Bossert
The Livingston County sheriff is hoping to convince state and local officials to re-open a portion of the closed Dwight prison for housing inmates from other counties.
Marty Meredith still needs permission from the state and Livingston County Board. The plan would mean housing up to 300 prisoners from the federal prison system, Cook County, and elsewhere - and hiring up to 40 people with prior correctional experience.
The maximum-security women’s facility closed in May as part of a series of cuts made by Gov. Pat Quinn. Meredith said the move will require a roughly $1-million investment from the county, but could generate up to $1.5 million.
He is meeting with state officials next week, and expects to bring his plan before the Livingston County Board by July.
“But before I do that, I want to take it to the people – and let the people of Livingston County – let them make the decision," he said. "I want to put something in the newspaper and even the Associated Press – let people know that please, voice your opinions, because we want to do what’s best for Livingston County, and your voice does have a say here.”
Meredith’s plan would use two portions of the prison: a newer area called the ‘X-House’ because of its shape, and a port where inmates are dropped off.
He said county inmates staying in the prison could be anyone awaiting trial, and those sentenced for less than a year from neighboring counties.
Meredith said he has been working with State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) and Rep. Josh Harms (R-Watseka) on this plan, and the state is working with him as well.
Harms said there's a limit to his efforts, but backs the proposal. "If the sheriff can get it up and running, you know, you're talking about lots of jobs, revenue for the county, I think it would be a postive," he said.
Barickman said he's been working to connect Meredith with the Department of Corrections, who knows the cost of running the prison. "They know what it means to operate the facilty," he said. "If the county is to take some role in this, they obviously need to learn from the state agencies who have the experience there." Barickman says all legislators can do is provide local leaders with the information they need to make this decision.
"Once I made contact with state, dealing with (Central Management Services), they've been nothing but great to us," said Meredith, who envisions a day the prison is once again a state facilty. "There's always a hope that we could get DOC back, but we want to be able to use the facility to generate money for Livingston County."
Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said the agency is always looking for ways to preserve public safety, including re-use of closed prison facilities.