By Julie (Smith) Farley, Editor
A large audience of Hardin County residents, as well as, state and local officials attended a public hearing on Monday, July 20, 2015 to discuss the proposed closure of the Hardin County Work Camp at Cave In Rock, Illinois. The hearing was held in the gymnasium of Hardin County K-12 School. A vote was not taken on the outcome of the proposed closure. That will come at a later date. Notice was given on June 3, 2015 by the State of Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability that closure of the Work Camp was being considered. Reasons cited were the need for $9.8 million dollars in necessary upgrades which included repairs to the kitchen due to a fire which took place in 2012, as well as, electrical, plumbing, and other work. The statement was made that closure of the Work Camp would allow the 156 inmates to be transferred to the Shawnee or Vienna Correctional Centers, or other State facilities where opportunities for education and vocational programs would continue for them. Concerning the economic impact of the closure, the statement was made that a study concluded that it was too small to show up on an economic scale model. Current expenditures would remain unchanged and the action would be “merely a reallocation of funds.” There is not enough money in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget to make the proposed upgrades. Co-Chair Senator Donne Trotter and Co-Chair Representative Donald Moffitt called the hearing to order. Testimonies were given for the next two hours in opposition to the closure of the Work Camp with some making impassioned pleas in defense of the value of the Work Camp to the communities it serves and to its inmate population. State of Illinois Executive Branch officials on hand for the hearing were Gladyse C. Taylor, Acting Director, Illinois Department of Corrections; Jared Brunk, Budget Director, IDOC; Ed Jackson, Chief Labor Relations, IDOC; Edwin Bowen, Chief of Staff, IDOC; and Jason Garnett, Assistant Director, IDOC. Elected officials were the first to share comments. State Representative Brandon Phelps expressed strong opposition to the loss of 61 good paying jobs in the county and took issue with the person/persons who conducted the economic impact study. “How can that person see the future?” Phelps asked. He referred to the closing of the Tamms DOC facility a few years ago and said that community is hurting — still struggling. He predicted that the three towns in Hardin County could become ghost towns with the closure — that the closure would cause devastating results to the already economically challenged area. Phelps received accolades from the audience when he stated concerning the economic impact statement, “I think he doesn’t know a word of what he is talking about.” Phelps questioned IDOC officials on why the Hardin County facility was being targeted, stating, “I hope politics is not involved in this. For the Governor to choose this facility knowing how vital this service is, I just cannot understand, or accept,” he said. Phelps demanded a guarantee from IDOC that the current employees of the Work Camp would get decent jobs comparable to what they currently hold with consideration for miles traveled to new work sites. Concerning the relocation of inmates, an IDOC official stated that sufficient beds were available at four other Work Camps statewide. There was skepticism among several commentors who obviously disagreed with any notion of closing the Hardin County facility. Some implied that the $9.8 million in upgrades was an inflated estimate with no real basis presented at the hearing. It was also implied that the amount of money needed to repair the kitchen was out of line, and Work Camp employees were available to do much of the work. However, an IDOC official took issue with the comment and said repair work over $10,000 would require bids to be taken, that it was not a matter of simply allowing current employees to do the work. IDOC has spent $14,000 a month to operate a temporary kitchen out of a trailer at the Work Camp while actual repairs would cost $20,000 or under. IDOC officials estimated that the closure of the Work Camp would bring a $1 million savings; the cost to moth ball the facility would be around $25,000. It would then be surplus property that would be offered to other State facilities or marketed. Conflicting statements were made as to the actual closure date — end of September or end of the year. One official asked, “If the State Legislature crafts an appropriation bill to fund this project, are you set on closing this facility? Is it the savings — not the necessary expenditure — you’re looking for?” A clear answer was not given to the inquiries. Bob Winchester of Rosiclare, former State Representative, gave a brief history of the Work Camp, stating that in 1980 the State was looking at ways to solve overcrowding in prisons. “We explored the concept of boot camps and work camps in other states and thought it would be a good approach,” Winchester said. With the countywide consolidation of schools in Hardin County in 1980, the Shewmaker School on Route 1, Cave In Rock, became an obvious choice for a work camp site. Hardin County Work Camp became the first one in Illinois. It is a satellite facility of Shawnee Correctional Center. Winchester took issue with the expenditure of $14,000 a month for the last three years to operate a temporary kitchen at the Work Camp when repairs could have saved IDOC thousands of dollars. Winchester also commented that he did not believe all current employees would find jobs in Shawnee or Vienna facilities. A breakdown of job titles in other facilities was not available to address the issue, but an IDOC official said it would be compiled. Senator Gary Forby referred to extreme southern Illinois as God’s Country. He remarked on the many services that the Work Camp provides to its local communities and praised the facility for its fine program. “The inmates are giving back to the community. They are getting a second life,” he said. “Their minds could be a lot different through their experiences and education with the Work Camp when they are released.” Forby continued, “When you’ve got people asking to come here, you’ve got to look at why. It’s because they’ve heard of this place,” he said. Concerning the kitchen fire he stated, “With 10,000 to $15,000 we’d have that place back in operation. Fourteen thousand a month spent on a kitchen is a waste of money.” Forty wondered how the towns were going to survive without the Work Camp. “This is my district, and the talk of closing the Work Camp makes me feel like a step child.” An IDOC department head stated, “We appreciate the efforts of the work camps. We don’t want to see any adverse impacts.” A low rumble from the audience was heard after the statement was made. Forby concluded, “There is no doubt this closure will have a negative impact.” Following are excerpts of comments made by over 30 local Hardin Countians concerning the closure. The Independent regrets that all comments cannot be printed in full due to time and space limitations. CAVE IN ROCK MAYOR MARTY KAYLOR: “I know first hand what the closure of the Work Camp would mean to this area. One Work Camp crew a day can accomplish what one person can do in a week in our town.” Kaylor cited contributions to the Ohio River Sweep and natural disasters such as floods when the Work Camp crews were on the front lines helping out. COUNTY COMMISSIONER MICHAEL BURTON: Burton reiterated what several others’ words concerning the countless hours the Work Camp crews contribute to Hardin and surrounding counties. “When you can do that,” he said, “you can take care of yourself.” “I’m going home and pray for you to make the right decision, and I am going to ask you to pray about your decision.” TODD CARR, ELIZABETHTOWN VILLAGE BOARD TRUSTEE: Carr mentioned closures that have taken place in Hardin County over the past 20 years — Rides Mass Transit District moved its administrative office to another county; Shawnee Telephone Company moved its office to Equality; the United States Forest Service closed its ranger station in Elizabethtown; Florida Rock bought a rock quarry facility just to shut it down; the school district has lost hundreds of students. With each loss, the county has been adversely affected. He asked, “Would you want to raise your children in a county without medical facilities and educational opportunities? That’s the cost of losing this Work Camp. The cost is too great to let this work camp go.” WINNIE OXFORD, VILLAGE OF CAVE- IN- ROCK TRUSTEE: Oxford talked of returning to Cave In Rock, her hometown, after 32 years of being gone. “It’s been awesome,” she said. She talked of the Work Camp contributions to beautification of the towns. BOB HOLMES, SUPERVISOR, HARRISBURG TOWNSHIP: Holmes praised the Work Camp crews, using as an example, the work done on roadsides. With only two employees to keep up on the work, he said the crews did the work of 20 employees. “It’s a great program to put inmates back out in the public.” MARK YORK, MEMBER, GALLATIN COUNTY BOARD. York asked the question, “What constitutes southern Illinois — Hardin, Pope, Gallatin and Saline counties do. “This is a regional issue, not a Hardin County issue.” He said, “I really question making a hit in this area. If they [IDOC] think they have trouble working on a budget, they should see what we have to work with.” DALE FOWLER, HARRISBURG MAYOR, FORMER IDOC EMPLOYEE: Fowler said the Hardin County Work Camp means more than 61 jobs. He talked about the annual Operation Pride project where this year alone 1,800 bags of trash were picked up from the highways by the inmate crews. He talked about the fact that all students at Hardin County K-12 School qualify for the State/Federal free and reduced lunch program due to the poverty level. He pointed out that 30 homes are owned by Work Camp employees — 30 taxpayers. Fowler took issue with the economic impact statement by an IDOC official — “small variation”. Fowler said, “He is asking too much from an area that has so little to lose.” MIKE STOUT, BUSINESS MANAGER, ISEA LABORERS LOCAL 2002: Stout talked about recidivism [a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior; especially relapse into criminal behavior]. Stout said studies have shown that these exact programs such as Hardin County Work Camp has are the most effective in fighting recidivism. He noted a time when overcrowding was an issue, and the Work Camp increased its beds to 240 “with a smile.” He said the area would be deeply damaged by closure of the Work Camp. KELLY BEAL, AFSCME LOCAL 3605: Beal stated that figures are inflated on needed repairs. He said the staff at Hardin County Work Camp enjoys going to work. “IDOC should be trying to duplicate this Work Camp all over the state.” He also suggested the following: “Why not cut from the top [budget] instead of the bottom?” BILLY AUSTIN, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: Austin’s career in Corrections has spanned from Pontiac, to Menard, to Hardin County Work Camp. He is in charge of the outside grounds and gardens. “I love my job,” Austin said. “There is not a single day that I dread going to work.” He talked of the employees donating seed for the garden projects which produce 6,000 pounds of produce a year that are used to feed the inmates and shared with people in the community such as Golden Circle Senior Citizens Center. He said 30 inmates worked the gardens, and the majority of them did not know a thing about it. “Hardin County Work Camp gives them the sense of accomplishment,” Austin said. “When they are doing good for others, it [Work Camp] shouldn’t close.” Among the projects that he supervises is a favorite — giving each student at Hardin County Elementary a pumpkin to take home in the fall. LARRY TRIPP, LIEUTENANT, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: Tripp said the inmates have already given 33,741 hours of service to the communities from January to June of this year. “They are giving back to the taxpayers of this area,” he said. Tripp said the staff has donated thousands of dollars in equipment and supplies for various projects. He said closure of the Work Camp for the inmates would mean “killing their spirit and closing their lives.” SGT. JERID PICKFORD, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: Pickford talked of a program that is ready to be implemented, just as the news of the possible closure comes — the training of dogs to work with people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The dogs will be trained free of charge at the Work Camp, and funding is available to pay all costs. IDOC will not pay for any of it. “These dogs are worth $20,000 after training,” he said. He talked about the adult basic education GED program which is ready to be implemented at any time at the Work Camp, except that IDOC has not gotten around to starting it. A teacher is ready and waiting. He talked about help received for homeless shelters through the Work Camp crews. “Hardin County is a bright spot in DOC. If you truly want to prepare inmates for reentry into society, why would you close Hardin County Work Camp?” LARRY MIZELL, RETIRED CHIEF DEPUTY DIRECTOR, IDOC: Mizell talked of the training program for dogs and how it is ready to be started. He called it a very worthy cause. Concerning the fight to stop the closure of the Work Camp, he said, “It is a lifeline of jobs. If there is a will, there is a way.” JOHN MOTT, RETIRED SUPERINTENDENT, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: Mott said over 30 houses had been built by inmates for Habitat for Humanity. Over 10,000 aluminum cans were collected with recycle proceeds being donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He talked about $44,000 in charity projects and trades programs that have originated from Hardin County Work Camp. Mott said the damage to the kitchen at the Work Camp was superficial. He was told the kitchen could be up and running in short order. He said cost estimates kept rising with passing time. “There’s a breakdown in communication as to what’s going on — $9.8 million in repairs being over the top. “The numbers have been pulled out of thin air,” he said. “There’s not one perfect facility in the State. There has been no professional assessment of the damage to the kitchen.” Mott believes IDOC is just looking for ways to shut down the Work Camp. RICHARD MCVICAR, RETIRED DEPUTY DIRECTOR, IDOC: “Work camps are designed to be good neighbors that give back to their communities. Hardin County has satisfied — if not exceeded — those expectations.” He concluded, “Hardin County is exceptional. IDOC should be celebrating this work camp. It’s special.” JOE JENKINS, RETIRED CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: Jenkins stated that his concern is for the future. “We will lose jobs,” he said. He noted the work done for Habitat for Humanity and The Lighthouse in Marion, IL, a shelter for the homeless. “Budget policies should not be about revenge or anything else,” he said. “They should be about the future.” He quoted Bible scripture from Matthew 15:27, King James Version. “And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Jenkins said this issue is not that this county can flourish but that it can survive. KERRY CAMP, RETIRED ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT SHAWNEE CC: Concerning possible closure of the Work Camp, he stated, “The argument seems strong miles away from nowhere.” He called it a situation of “out of sight, out of mind”. He mentioned the flood of 1997 when the Work Camp inmates saved the towns of Hardin County by making and placing 6,440 sand bags. They worked 12 hour shifts and helped to erect the flood gates in Rosiclare. “Hardin County Work Camp doesn’t create challenges; it solves them,” he said. GREG LOVE, RETIRED CORRECTIONS SUPERVISOR, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: Love spoke about the value of the Work Camp to his family and friends. He said closure of the Work Camp will affect the area tremendously. He thanked the panel of officials for questions asked of IDOC officials previously in the hearing and said, “I could tell you truly cared.” I ask everyone to consider our side. There is none in this area like our Work Camp. We depend on this Work Camp.” JOHN BROOKS, RETIRED FOOD SUPERVISOR: Brooks said inmates that worked in the Work Camp kitchen didn’t even know how to boil water. He said he knows of several inmates who went out into their communities after leaving the Work Camp. “We give these guys tools in their tool boxes [to succeed]. The closure of the Work Camp would be a travesty to surrounding counties, too, he said. SHEILA PITTMAN, SECRETARY-TREASURER, GALLATIN COUNTY FAIR BOARD: Pittman said the Work Camp has made it possible for community festivals to continue. She said there was never a problem with any of the inmate crews from Hardin County. “They are an important link for tourism,” she said. RHONDA BELFORD, PRESIDENT, ILLINOIS CHAPTER OF THE OHIO RIVER SCENIC BYWAY: Belford talked about Hardin County and southern Illinois being predominantly rural with pockets of extreme poverty. She said the work the crews do for the community is a great example of the cooperative efforts of people and organizations to work to succeed. ” I see it as Hardin County Work Camp not being a problem but rather a solution,” Belford said. NANCY PENNELL, HARDIN COUNTY CIRCUIT CLERK SPEAKING FOR MARTHA WILLIAMS, GOLDEN CIRCLE: Pennell formerly worked as activity director at the senior citizens center. “Every guard and crew were helpful and polite to the senior citizens,” she said. The crew mows the grounds weekly, brings fresh vegetables to the site which helps the center remain open. In 2001 she said the Work Camp helped to move the Center from its old location in an Elizabethtown school building to the new center on Route 146 east of Elizabethtown. “They have provided great benefits to the Golden Circle.” STAN PENNELL, PASTOR, BETHANY CHURCH: Pennell said he had been telling himself all through the hearing, “Let’s not get angry. Let’s be peacable.” He said it has been hard to hold back on comment at times. He talked about the Golden Circle Center hanging by a thread to keep in operation and how the Work Camp has helped out in many ways. “Some of those little ladies get one meal a day from the Center,” Pennell said, referring to the “Meals on Wheels” program. “Some of them are hanging by a thread. If the Center closes, they won’t get that meal.” Many aren’t able to take care of themselves,” he said. Pennell said he listened to talk concerning the budget and respectfully doesn’t believe for a second that it is necessary to close the Work Camp. “You won’t make a difference in Chicago, Springfield, or Peoria,” he said, “but it means everything here.” PERRY FOSTER, HARDIN COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Foster said what the Work Camp has done for the towns goes beyond the call of duty. He talked about the microburst that brought down many trees a few years ago in the Cave In Rock area and how the Work Camp cleaned up the mess. He talked about its sandbagging efforts during floods. “There are lots of things going on behind the scenes. I challenge IDOC officials to come down and take a look. Hardin County has given enough. We need to take from upstate.” DAVID KOSTER, JACKSON AND UNION COUNTY HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Koster said the Work Camp crews put together walls and trusses for the houses each Saturday morning for four hours. “It has helped our program tremendously to have the assistance of the Work Camp,” Koster said. “I ask IDOC officials what could be more fitting that they [inmates] pay back to the community?” JEFFERY DENNISON, ACTING SUPERINTENDENT, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: Dennison talked about programs such as the rainwater collection for the Work Camp garden and the newly implemented honey bee program. “People are striving to be more sustainable,” he said. Lack of honey bee pollination is at a crisis level in the United States. “We are working and growing the program,” he said. He talked about future plans to add a community recycling center. DAN WOODARD, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: “I’m the new guy at the Hardin County Work Camp,” he said. “I may be in trouble.” Woodard said the closure of the Work Camp is about politics — not saving a few dollars. He said computers were sitting at the Work Camp ready for the adult education/GED program. “We have a teacher,” he said. “DOC is not setting them up.” BOBBY ROBINSON, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, HARDIN COUNTY WORK CAMP: Robinson said when he was hired 30 years ago, he was told that his job was to watch for fights. “I take these guys out in the public and work them in areas where people can’t afford to get the work done. He mentioned work at the Khoury League ball park and after the extreme ice storms in early 2000s. “We’re teaching them good work ethics,” he said. “We’re making a difference.” He said, “If that’s what rehabilitation is about, I can watch for fights.” GARRISON MOTT, VICE PRESIDENT, AFSCME LOCAL 3605: Mott said the fire in the kitchen in 2012 was mostly water and smoke damage. The equipment still functions. Repairs have been made and there are few to finish up on. “We have the staff to do it,” he said. “Just one month’s worth of money that is used to operate the kitchen trailer now is what is needed to finish the repairs.” He called the call for extreme funding to fix the kitchen “lopsided”. Mott said the Building Trade Instructor at Shawnee CC estimated roughly $20,000 was needed to fix the damage to the kitchen using existing correctional staff, but budget estimates call for $144,000. “That just cannot be justified,” he said. The Independent reporter left the hearing shortly before all comments were made. Still left on the agenda were Karen Dunstan, Nurse, Hardin County Work Camp; Brian Watson, Superintendent of Education, Vienna CC/Shawnee CC, Hardin County WC, Dixon Springs Impact Incarceration Program; Bob Rosalee Denton and Dennis Austin, concerned citizens. A period of time also was reserved for public comments before adjournment. The people of Hardin County spoke loud and clear in defense of keeping the Work Camp open. They brought messages of hope and concern. Time will tell if IDOC officials will take heed to their appeals. Much is to be gained or lost, depending on the outcome of the decision on the Hardin County Work Camp. It is hoped that the general public will realize the magnitude of the issue at hand and will lend their support in the coming months. Its closure would have an adverse affect on nearly every citizen, business, group, or organization of Hardin County.
Published in Hardin County Independent July 23, 2015