By Julie Farley, Editor
Hardin County Independent
State Representative Brandon Phelps held a brief news conference at the entrance to the Hardin County Work Camp on Tuesday morning, Nov. 3, on its behalf. Phelps announced that he had introduced legislation that would protect the Work Camp from being closed by Governor Bruce Rauner – House Bill 4326.
Phelps was joined by elected officials, business owners, community leaders, Work Camp employees, and AFSCME representatives – American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
Most people in attendance seemed in agreement that the Work Camp provides vital services to the local communities in addition to employing 60-plus staff members, many of whom reside in or near Hardin County. The closure of the Work Camp would have a negative impact on all individuals, businesses, and municipalities concerned, and it would not provide great relief to the State budget crisis as the Governor proposes.
Phelps heard comments from those in attendance concerning the unique situation at the Work Camp which has a close working relationship with area municipalities and facilities. “There should be more such facilities instead of closing this one,” Phelps stated.
A budget savings of $1 million is anticipated by the Governor with the closing of the Work Camp; however, Colby Potts, a Work Camp employee and local resident, stated that the amount is a drop in the bucket compared to what the Work Camp provides in services.
Potts said the inmates are being taught responsibility and life skills. “What we’re doing up there [Work Camp] is special,” Potts said.
Potts has been at the Work Camp for 17 years and fears what the future brings for himself and other Corrections officers and staff. “We don’t know what is ahead at this point,” he said.
Phelps touched on safety issues concerning the employees stating that they likely will be transferred to overpopulated facilities as the Governor orders the closure of the Work Camp. “I’m trying to use every tool in the tool box so to speak to keep this Work Camp open,” Phelps stated. “The good people of this area deserve it.”
Governor Rauner announced in June that the Work Camp which holds 200 inmates would be closed. It is a satellite facility of the Shawnee Correctional Center.
As outlined in a news release from Phelps’ office, House Bill 4326 would create a special status for the Work Camp to ensure that it cannot be closed. Advocates for the bill say that the efforts to close the facility are politically motivated, and the workers and their families deserve the protection of the law.
The Work Camp is slated to close in December.