Prison adds economic stability without anticipated danger

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

The fears of locating a prison in Galesburg decades ago have not been realized.

Some opponents of bringing a prison to Galesburg feared prison breaks - none have occurred - and that released convicts would stay in Galesburg and cause trouble here. Further, some still argue the prison, located here in 1986, brings inmates' families to settle here, bringing problems with them.

Hill Correctional Center Warden Don Hulick says families don't usually move here because prisoners don't stay long. They are frequently transferred to other facilities, he said. Henry C. Hill Correctional Center is a Level 2 secure medium prison and inmates attempt to move to lower security prisons.

The Register-Mail had difficulty determining whether inmates' families are relocating in Galesburg because of the prison. Hill Correctional Center did not provide such information and our reporter and photographer were not given access to those people visiting prisoners. In fact, our staff members were told to leave the prison premises.

The Galesburg Police Department looked into the claim that inmates' families were migrating to Galesburg. Police Chief John Schlaf reported that in the 1990s just four families were found to have moved to Galesburg because of the prison, although he said much of that evidence was hearsay and not official.

Schlaf acknowledges that the migration claim is a typical concern, but he says it may not be valid. And even if families are relocating to Galesburg to be close to the prison, there is no evidence that they are causing problems.

Crime statistics show no marked increase in offenses since the prison opened in 1986. Theft and burglaries are down from 1986, while aggravated assault and battery has climbed since the mid 1990s.

Galesburg police reported being called to the prison 166 times between January 1992 and January 1996; 144 of those calls were for medical cases. The other 22 calls were for things such as vandalism in the parking lot or theft from employees. The 166 calls represented 16 percent of all calls reported by Galesburg police during that same time.

Meanwhile, the prison has brought jobs, although not as many as expected. The prison employs 319 people; 425 jobs were predicted. And Hill has an annual payroll of $20 million.

Jobs were the main reason city officials lobbied so hard to bring a prison here. In the 1980s the community lost jobs from the closing of Gale Products Division of Outboard Marine Corp. and the Galesburg Mental Health Center.

And while building a prison is not the kind of economic development that spurs other growth, it has added some economic stability to Galesburg. The prison is the city's largest water consumer and annually spends $750,000 for utilities, $90,000 on fuel, postage and office supplies and $4 million for contractual agreements with plumbers, electricians and health care professionals.

The prison, however, does not pay property taxes and doesn't benefit the community as much as a manufacturing or commercial site would, according to Robin Hanna, manager of rural economics for the Technology Assistance Center at the Institute for Rural Affairs. Further, the prison's location provides travelers on U.S. 34 from the west with a rather grim first impression of Galesburg.

The prison is not a beacon of progress, but neither has it brought the kinds of problems feared decades ago. Meanwhile, we have 319 more jobs. - Tom Martin, editor


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