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Our View: Decision needed on old prison

The deteriorating Joliet Correctional Center building is starting to look like a symbol of what’s wrong with state government in Illinois.

The limestone walls, 25 feet high and accented with turrets where guards would watch over prisoners with loaded weapons, stirs the imagination about what life was like in this bleak environment in bygone days.

The prison on Collins Street, however, is rotting and crumbling. The state owns the property but is doing nothing with it. The condition of the structure gets worse by the day – the roof on the main building of the prison collapsed recently – even though some would like to see it preserved and put to new use.

Local state legislators proposed two initiatives this spring to deal with the prison.

One would have authorized a sale of the prison to the city of Joliet for $10. The sale would give the city control of the prison and put Joliet in a stronger position to market the property.

The other would have provided tax credits to private investors who want to develop state-owned properties, including the prison.

Both proposals got hung up in the Legislature despite the efforts of state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, and state Sen. Patrick McGuire, D-Joliet.

Legislators were concerned that the $10 proposal left the state liable for environmental cleanup. The proposals for tax credits supposedly looked bad at a time when legislators were thinking of keeping the income-tax hike in place, although that hasn’t happened yet, either.

But the state, which owns the prison and bears some responsibility for its future, should partner with the city of Joliet and any private investors who come along in redevelopment of what has become a nuisance property.

The Joliet prison, site of the opening scenes in the 1980 classic Chicago film “The Blues Brothers” when “Joliet Jake” Blues is released, might not have the same appeal as a place like California’s Alcatraz. But there are other potential uses for the property.

At least the legislation proposed this spring attempted to move the old Joliet Prison out of the completely moribund status in which it now exits and in which it is turning into ruins.

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