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Hundreds picket in effort to rescue Dwight prison

Published: Friday, March 16, 2012 12:02 p.m. CDT

DWIGHT (MCT) — Patty Frye of Pontiac stood out in a tie-dyed top in a crowd wearing mostly green “Save Dwight Prison” T-shirts, but she reflected the mood of the group just the same.

“I’m angry and scared, very scared,” she said.

Worried that Dwight Correctional Center may close but determined to prevent it, about 200 people turned out Thursday afternoon to picket. They lined Illinois 17 in front of the prison just west of town, waving signs matching their T-shirts and chanting as passing drivers honked in support.

Frye’s two daughters and a son-in-law work at the state’s only maximum-security prison for women. If Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to close the lockup by Aug. 31 goes through, Frye fears the three will lose their jobs and lack the seniority to move elsewhere in the Department of Corrections.

“They have established their lives around their jobs,” said Frye, who moved from Peoria to Pontiac three years ago to be near them. “They have kids in school. They bought houses (in Pontiac).

“We won’t know what to do if this place closes,” she said. “We’re scared, all of us.”

DOC estimates closing the prison, which houses about 1,000 inmates and employs about 350 workers, would save about $37.3 million a year. The Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council estimates, however, it would cost the region more than 700 jobs and about $45 million annually in economic activity.

Frye said she has been writing letters and has collected 15 pages of signatures on a petition at Pontiac Kitchen, a restaurant where she works.

That activist attitude was common among people at the rally.

“We’ll do whatever can be done,” said Nicole Barr of Seneca. “We’ll do what we need to do, even if we have to go to Springfield.”

Barr came with her grandmother, Mary Darm of Morris, and her 3-year-old daughter, Aubree. She fears her husband, a correctional officer at the prison, will lose his job. “It would definitely change our lives for the worse,” she said.

Correctional Officer Andrew Bufford, secretary of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1133 at the prison, was grateful for the turnout of community members and friends and families of employees.

“They energized us,” he said, calling the event “a momentum builder.”

The rally was among about 50 events staged statewide Thursday as part of AFSCME’s Day of Action campaign against Quinn’s proposed budget cuts, which include closing 59 facilities.

Speaking with people at the rally were State Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, and state Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, both of whom praised the turnout. They noted Quinn’s plan for the budget to take effect July 1 is far from done deal, so public activism now can make a difference.

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©2012 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)

Visit The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) at www.pantagraph.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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