Prisons don't die easy. Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy has made the strongest accusations yet against a state prison system and a governor accustomed to strong accusations. The horrible situation in Pontiac goes much farther than the state's plan to close the century-old prison there.
Prisons don't die easy.
Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy has made the strongest accusations yet against a state prison system and a governor accustomed to strong accusations. The horrible situation in Pontiac goes much farther than the state's plan to close the century-old prison there.
Basically, according to Mayor McCoy, the murders of Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew are partly the governor's fault. Basically, according to the mayor, the Hudson family deaths could have been avoided. Basically, he said, state officials are deliberately allowing dangerous parole violators free to roam the streets, rather then returning them to prison, in a cynical scheme to make the governor's prison-reduction programs look successful.
According to the mayor, the person of interest in the Hudson family tragedy is one of those dangerous parole violators, thus some of the blame for their deaths should land at the governor's doorstep. But the governor was too concerned about his public face to consider the public's safety. With the prison population down, the state not only saves money but state officials can use the alleged reductions as the logic for closing a prison.
Bottom line, Mayor McCoy explained during a much-hyped press conference earlier this week, no one is safe.
The situation, he suggested, is what put the Hudson family in harm's way and, as he told reporters, is "putting my family and every one of your families in harm's way."
The implication is, of course, that if Pontiac prison remains open we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
Pontiac residents and their supporters rallied again this week in Springfield. Though a Johnson County judge has temporarily halted the transfer of Pontiac inmates prior to the scheduled closing later this year, a few other judges have yet to weigh in on lawsuits filed to save the prison.
You can't blame a town for fighting to save its second-largest employer. You can't blame Pontiac for being suspicious of the Department of Corrections' logic for closing Pontiac Correctional Center, coming as suddenly as it did after the change of mind about closing Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet.
The mayor is right when he says closing Pontiac prison is a lot bigger than Pontiac. There may be cause for concern regarding the record-setting reductions in the number of Cook County parole violators returned to prison since 2002. But his data should have undergone a lot more scrutiny before he threw in the Hudson family as a trump card in a desperate bid to keep Pontiac open.
William Balfour, the parole violator who piqued the mayor's interest, remains only a "person of interest," not a suspect in the Hudson deaths. The mayor's numbers on parole violations in Cook County don't separate violent offenders from the non-violent ones who contributed to the bulk of the incarceration boom, nor do they offer firm evidence that parole violators are responsible for Chicago's rising murder rate. Nor do they make mention of the judicial role in revoking parole.
Coincidentally, a day after the mayor's press conference, Illinois State Police reported crime, from murder to theft, dropped statewide again last year, continuing a 13-year slide.
Mayor McCoy admitted he didn't know much about recidivism rates - that is, the number of felons who return to prison within a year of their release. "And if it wasn't for the Hudson case, I probably wouldn't have looked at this as much as I'm doing."
If he keeps looking, he'll realize Pontiac's rural pain is Chicago's inner-city misery. Inner cities and rural communities share similar problems - high unemployment rates, as well as poor access to decent, affordable housing, health care, transportation and grocery stores.
The jobs and the families McCoy is trying to protect are intimately linked to the jobs and the families who weren't helped when a confluence of interests conflated incarceration into economic growth beginning 30 years ago, not to the tragic deaths of a celebrity's relatives.
Pam Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.