SPRINGFIELD — Just weeks after Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced hundreds of layoffs because of state budget woes, his administration hired 208 prison guards who don't have a prison to guard.
The Department of Corrections hired the employees for the Thomson Correctional Center in October at a cost of $10.8 million for their first year of work, according to a review of state records. They were supposed to provide security at the prison in northwestern Illinois for inmates being transferred from the Pontiac prison, which Blagojevich has said he'd close to save $4 million a year, a corrections spokesman said Monday.
But the Pontiac prison still is open because of a lawsuit filed by union officials on behalf of employees. And the Pontiac mayor says his city was "duped" because corrections officials promised jobs for most of the displaced workers.
Without new inmates at Thomson, 89 of the new hires will be reassigned to Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet starting Wednesday, meaning $9,000 a week in housing costs, spokesman Derek Schnapp said.
The turmoil dates back months.
In August, Blagojevich said cuts he made to an unbalanced budget would mean laying off 325 human-services and tourism workers, cutting substance-abuse treatment and closing two dozen state attractions.
By October, when the prison guards were hired, the legislature had sent the governor more than $200 million to spare the reductions. Blagojevich laid off 85 employees and closed 20 state parks and historic sites. He said he was using the rest of the money to prevent future layoffs in a weakening economy and facing a budget deficit of up to $2 billion.
Attrition claims about 50 corrections employees a month, Blagojevich spokeswoman Katie Ridgway said. Counting the new positions, the agency's October head count was lower than the number the previous two years, she said.
Blagojevich's plan was to close Pontiac by year's end. To meet that deadline, the new officers had to be hired in October so they could complete a six-week training course and two weeks of orientation at Thomson, Schnapp said.