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Shuttered Joliet prison could house NATO offenders

Published: Monday, April 30, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

CHICAGO – A monumental former prison in suburban Chicago — featured in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers" – might serve as a temporary detention facility for those arrested during the NATO summit in Chicago next month.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is considering the former Joliet Correctional Center as an option for NATO protesters arrested for serious offenses, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in its Sunday edition. However, it's unclear if the prison, which has been closed since 2002 and is a tourist destination for its movie-star status, would be viable.

Thousands of demonstrators are expected to protest the summit that will bring President Barack Obama and the leaders of more than 50 nations to McCormick Place on May 20-21. Chicago officials have amped up security with help from Illinois State Police and the Illinois National Guard

The Joliet prison is about 40 miles from Chicago. The Sun-Times reports that police officials are investigating whether the prison has electricity or running water.

"If it's functional, it wouldn't take a lot of manpower to monitor it," Dart said, who added that its proximity to Chicago and a major freeway made it an attractive option. Dart had also considered a wing of the Cook County Jail to house protesters.

It's unclear how much space would be needed, and no final decisions have been made.

While summits in other major cities previously have yielded high numbers of arrests, Dart does not anticipate a similar scenario for Chicago. The sheriff called the 2010 G-20 summit in Toronto an "anomaly" for its more than 1,100 arrests, the Sun-Times reported.

Recent summits have been relatively tame, police officials say. The 2009 G-20 summit in London saw 35,000 protesters and 122 arrests. Only 190 arrests were made in Pittsburgh during the 2009 G-20 summit, which drew more than 4,000 protesters, the Sun-Times reported.

The shuttered Joliet prison remains a destination for tourists. The thick-walled limestone building – constructed by inmates in the 1850s – is featured in a prison-break scene during "The Blues Brothers," which starred John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

Since the prison closed a decade ago, officials hoped that renovation efforts might elevate the facility to the ranks of successful prison museums, such as Alcatraz in San Francisco and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. However, officials have said that the cost for repairs would be in the tens of millions of dollars.

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