Pontiac Correctional Center
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Pontiac Correctional Center, established in June 1871, is an Illinois Department of Corrections maximum security prison (Level 1) for adult males in Pontiac, Illinois. The prison also has a medium security unit that houses medium to minimum security inmates and is classified as Level 3. Until the 2011 abolition of the death penalty in Illinois, the prison housed male death row inmates, but had no execution chamber. Inmates were executed at the Tamms Correctional Center. Although the capacity of the prison is only 1,058, it has an average daily population of 1,660.
In May 2008, Governor Rod Blagojevich’s administration proposed to shut down the Pontiac facility, which would phase out the prison between January and February 2009. The inmate population would be transferred to the Thomson facility, a newly built maximum security prison, which is also equipped to house segregated inmates. The Pontiac facility is one of the largest employers in the Livingston County community. Governor Pat Quinn cancelled plans to close Pontiac Correctional Center on March 12, 2009.
- 1 History to 1931
- 2 Riots
- 3 Proposed prison closing
- 4 Units
- 5 Notable Inmates
- 6 References
- 7 External links
History to 1931
The prison was originally a boys' reform school from 1872 to 1893, but was then established as the State Reformatory. What later became the administrative offices used to be the buildings of the reform school. Two cell houses were constructed., One was a 4-tier cell house holding 296 cells, each of which measured 8’3” x 7’x 8’. The other was 5-tiers housing 500 cells measuring 8’x5’x 8’. The cells had iron bars in the front and containing a cot or spring bed, a stool and locker. In 1929, there were 1,405 inmates and 57 guards, making the ratio approximately 1 guard to 25 inmates. In 1931, an additional cell house with 440 cells on 5 tiers was built. In this cell house, there were two men to each 8’x10’x8’ cell sharing a bunk bed, a cabinet, a desk and outlet for a radio. With the new cell houses, the prison population grew to 2,504 inmates with 150 guards or approximately 1 guard per 17 inmates. The prison housed 2,504 inmates (1,959 white, 535 black, 10 other).
Rules and Regulations
The inmates were allowed to smoke in their cells at specified times. Relatives were allowed to visit once a month on any day except Saturday afternoons, Sundays and holidays. Twice a month, inmates were allowed to write letters: one to a friend and one to a parent. A married prisoner was permitted to write every week. The inmates could buy tobacco, candy and toiletries weekly and could receive newspapers and magazines from the publisher.
Privileges were taken away for 10 to 30 days as the most common type of punishment. Inmates were put in certain confinement cells with nothing but a slice of bread to eat every morning for 3 to 8 days, for worse violations.
On April 23, 1973, a brawl broke out involving 100 inmates using homemade knives, cleaning utensils and metal trays as weapons in the mess hall at the correctional center. By the time tear gas was fired, two inmates were stabbed and killed. According to Time Magazine, this fight was due to the many gangs that had been sent to the prison from the Chicago streets.
On July 22, 1978, one of the deadliest riots in Illinois prison history broke out involving over 1,000 inmates. The riot began around 9:45 in the morning when 600 prisoners were returning to the cell house on the north end of the prison from the recreational yard. Armed with shanks, prisoners attacked officers inside the cell house. According to investigators, prison gangs directed the attack to challenge Warden Thaddeus Pinkney. Soon after the local and state police arrived and fired eight rounds of tear gas into the prison yard. Prisoners set buildings on fire causing the other prisoners to get involved. After many hours, the troops got all inmates back into their cells. A lieutenant, William Thomas, and two correctional officers, Robert Conkle and Stanley Cole, were killed while three correctional officers, Danny Dill, Dale Walker and Sharon Pachet, were injured.
Immediately a “deadlock” system was put into effect until October 16, 1978. Prisoners were not allowed to leave their cells for any reason. Their meals were brought to them; all recreational time and work assignments were cancelled. The prisoners were not allowed to shower until October; family visits were banned until October 14 and they were not allowed to make phone calls to their families until September 30. The officials of the prison began searching the prisoners for weapons on October 2 and ended October 13.
A complaint from the prisoners went to the district court on August 31 stating the “deadlock” was taking longer than it was needed. The district judge took this into consideration, but then decided to wait until after the “shakedown” to make any decisions. After the shakedown, on November 3, the court ordered Pontiac Correctional Center to restore the family visitation hours and phone privileges just as they were before the riot, as well as the meals, exercise and work times. The court also required the prison to provide two hours of yard recreation a week to the prisoners.
Because of this riot, the prison now allows only a few inmates to be moved at a time in a line, and as of 1997, prisoners are kept in their cell every hour of the day except for a half hour if they are in disciplinary segregation.
Proposed prison closing
In May 2008 the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, made a public announcement stating he wanted to close Pontiac Correctional Center by February 2009 and move about half the inmates to a prison in Thomson, Illinois. Many citizens of Pontiac were against this plan fearing “570 jobs in this central Illinois town would be lost.”  The prison is the second largest employer in the Livingston County. Citizens would gather together and hold rallies to get the support of the governor. On September 15 there was a joint meeting in Chicago and Springfield where the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted. At this meeting 9 out of 12 people voted to keep open the prison. Although Governor Blagojevich would have made the final decision, he would have taken into consideration this vote, but would not be obligated to agree with them. Employees of Pontiac Correctional Center filed a lawsuit on September 16 stating “the state does not have a right to close the facility because it has budgeted money to run the prison through June 2009” and “Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Illinois Department of Corrections cannot close the prison because funding was provided in the 2008-09 budget, which was passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by Blagojevich.”  On September 17, an independent commission of state lawmakers rejected to close the prison, which the Department of Corrections says will save money in next year’s budget. On March 12, 2009, Governor Pat Quinn cancelled plans to close Pontiac Correctional Center.
This unit is classified as Level 3 and houses offenders that are medium to minimum security inmates.
This unit is classified as Level 1 and contains offenders that need to be segregated and have limited privileges.
Protective Custody Unit
The Pontiac Correctional Center is the states' primary housing facility for protective custody inmates. Some of these inmates are former death row offenders. The unit houses between 550 - 600 inmates.
South Mental Health Unit
This unit provides psychiatric and psychological mental health services for offenders that are sentenced to be within the correctional system for a longer period of time with a segregated status. These offenders are diagnosed as chronically mentally ill with diagnoses including schizophrenia, psychotic, bipolar or major affective disorder.
- William Balfour - Murdered entertainer Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother, and nephew.
- Robert Ben Rhoades - Serial Killer.
- Drew Peterson
- Frank Collin
- Timothy Krajci
- Smith, Matt."Illinois abolishes death penalty." CNN. March 9, 2011.
- Colindres, Adriana (2008-05-05). "Administration wants to close Pontiac Correctional Center". GateHouse News Service. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
- Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability
- State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons, 1929.
- State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons, 1931
- State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons,1929.
- State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons.
- State Reformatory:Pontiac, Illinois. Handbook of American Prisons, 1931.
- "The Gang's All Here". Time. 27 April 1973. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- "30 years later: Memories of Illinois' worst prison riot". The Pantagraph. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- "22". Pantagraph.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
- "18". Pantagraph.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
- "Proposed Prison Closing Hits at the Heart of a Town". The New York Times. August 24, 2008.
- "Topic Galleries". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06.