Prison population at center of Illinois census debate

The city of Ina, where Big Muddy River Correctional Center is located, could lose tax money if a bill in the Ill. House is passed.
The city of Ina, where Big Muddy River Correctional Center is located, could lose tax money if a bill in the Ill. House is passed.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - The prison population is at the center of a new census debate, which could impact several Heartland towns. A recent bill filed in the Illinois House of Representatives would change the way prisoners are counted. Instead of counting them where they are in prison, the legislation calls to count them in the city where they lived before going to prison.

In southern Illinois, prisons are big business. But not just for jobs, they also provide an income to communities already strapped for cash.

Located just over the Jefferson County line, the Village of Ina is home to about 450 people in town.  It has a village hall, band stand and school. The Big Muddy River Correctional Center is just down the road. While the prisoners don't use the village facilities, they did help pay for them.

"When we got it we decided we would annex it to the village that way we'd get the motor fuel tax and several other taxes," Mayor Andy Hutchens said.

Hutchens has held the title of mayor in Ina for more than 20 years.

"When I first become mayor we oiled and chipped half of our streets one year, the next year we oiled and chipped the other half," Hutchens said. "That's all the money we've got."

But Hutchens says with the annex of the prison, Ina's population jumped to some 2,700. He says with a larger tax base the village has now paved nearly all the roads.  However, if Illinois House Bill 94 passes, places like Ina could lose the inmate tax base.

"My concern is not losing them in population count, in as much as, losing the revenue they bring to the community that's actually providing services to take care and house those inmates," said State Sen. John O. Jones (R - Mt. Vernon).

Jones says those services include things like water and sewer. He says the bill is census motivated and doesn't take in account the impact prisons have on nearby communities.

"I'm not sure those communities would want to put up with the problem of having a prison in their district if they don't receive some kind of benefits," Jones added.

For the Village of Ina, Hutchens says if inmates are counted in their home city and not at Big Muddy that could lead to the loss of jobs.

"We might have to do away with our police department," Hutchens said. "It would be a tremendous shock."

The bill is sponsored by Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago) and Rep. Rita Mayfield Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan).
"There is documentation to support that over 85 percent of released inmates return to their pre-conviction addresses," Mayfield said. "None stay in area surrounding prisons (unless they were originally from that area). Census numbers are not accurately reflected."

Meanwhile, this bill has a long way to go before it becomes law. It's still currently in the Illinois House.

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