May 24, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Prisons pay well, but main purpose isn’t to fuel local economy

Slowly but surely, our leaders are learning their lessons.

While speaking in Bloomington Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker answered a question about the fate of the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, which opened in the 1870s as “the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children.” Pritzker’s fiscal 2025 capital proposal includes spending up to $1 billion over up to five years to replace Logan and Stateville in Crest Hill.

He said, in part, the economic health of a region likely shouldn’t “rely upon a state-run facility that’s a prison. That can’t be a great economic growth strategy for the area.”

Prisons do offer well-paying jobs with state benefits and, like any goods, consumers help drive economic activity. But a prison’s first purpose should be its criminal justice role. Just like public schools should prioritize educating students, or the Secretary of State’s Office needs to certify drivers. Government provides services, and while the people who deliver that work deserve compensation, prioritizing economic impact above the health and safety of inmates and employees is missing the mark.

After the ongoing debacle of the supermaximum security prison in Thomson, largely sold to a bistate region as a cure for the economic woes inflicted when other public and private employers shuttered, it’s refreshing to hear frank talk implying a readiness to avoid past mistakes.

Officials are wise to keep economic efficiency in mind, but private development and profit should be no more than secondary to delivering vital services at a baseline competency. Right now Illinois is falling short on that front, making the needed focus clear.

INBOX: After writing about my property tax bill, I expected to hear from Bob Anderson, who did not disappoint:

“So you have 17 taxing bodies on your tax bill. Some Illinois homeowners have even more! … I think you should be SCREAMING, and writing, why I continue to have 17 taxing bodies on my tax bill. Illinois has 8,500 units of local governments, 46 states are functioning with less than 2,500 units. If Illinois eliminated 5,000 units it would still have 1,000 more units than 46 states. The funding of 8,500 units of local governments is NOT a good taxpayer investment. It’s time for the news media to ask members of the General Assembly this question: Do you have the backbone to make government consolidation/elimination a priority? If lawmakers do not think Illinois’ government glut is a state disgrace, they should resign.”

I have the community college, K-8 and high school districts, county, forest preserve, village, road and bridge, library and township, plus pension line items for each except the college – pension expenses actually dropped $15.29 from last year – but it would be interesting to hear from readers with longer lists.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on X @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.