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Local News

Prison Fest and other possibilities posed for old prison

An Illinois Department of Corrections vehicle sits parked in front of the old Joliet Correctional Center in January.
An Illinois Department of Corrections vehicle sits parked in front of the old Joliet Correctional Center in January.

JOLIET – What’s next? Prison Fest?

That’s one possibility suggested for the old Joliet Correctional Center when the newly formed Joliet City Council Prison Committee met on Monday.

Joliet already has a haunted house lined up for the prison this Halloween.

The prison committee at its first meeting began to explore what it wants to do with Joliet Correctional Center this year and over the five-year lease that the city has with the Illinois Department of Corrections.

“I think we’re all in agreement that this is going to be an amazing piece of work,” committee chairwoman Bettye Gavin said.

“I think by year five we should be pretty well rolling in a positive direction,” council member Terry Morris said.

Council member Don Dickinson said he would reserve some judgment until actually getting into the prison to see its condition but also was upbeat about the prospects.

“Just us having control over it, I think will be a definite upgrade,” Dickinson said. “The grounds will be much cleaner.”

The committee did not get into details such as what potential costs Joliet may face now that it has a lease for the prison, which was closed in 2002 and left to fall into disrepair ever since.

But there is potential help from building trades volunteers.

Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, told the committee that representatives from local labor unions have been inside the prison to look for ways they can help fix up the place.

Peerbolte said the museum, which has its own prison committee and would like to run tours through the grounds, is not looking for complete renovation.

“Tour ready has been our mantra,” he said. “You can’t remodel a whole site.”

City Economic Development Director Steve Jones suggested community cleanup days when volunteers could provide free labor in exchange for a chance to get inside the prison and look around.

“I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, when can I get into the prison?” Jones said. “There’s this pent-up demand to do it.”

Jones suggested the committee consider the possibility of “a prison festival.”

“Maybe,” he said, “as we get closer to Labor Day we can have a Prison Weekend where we do have music and we do have tours.”

Jones also said he will contact the Joliet Park District and Forest Preserve District of Will County to gauge their interest in using open lands that border the prison property.

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