Editorials

All along the watchtower, cameras kept the view

Illinois is considering replacing prison guards with cameras in towers, potentially saving $4 million a year.
Illinois is considering replacing prison guards with cameras in towers, potentially saving $4 million a year. AP

A recent story about Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner proposing cameras to replace guards in the towers at our lesser-security state prisons was captivating.

The technology could potentially do a better job, reduce the number of guards and shift more to where they can better control the inmates and save $4 million a year. The story went on to say that Pennsylvania did it and saved $5 million and Michigan did it and saved $15 million.

Makes you wonder why we couldn’t save even more?

It was an unexpected surprise to find we do prisons better, or at least cheaper, to begin with.

All three states house roughly similar numbers of inmates. Illinois does it for $1.1 billion less than Pennsylvania and $563 million less than Michigan.

By inmate, ours each cost taxpayers $31,856 a year while Michigan spends $46,376 per inmate and Pennsylvania $50,000. Illinois and Pennsylvania each run 25 institutions, but we do it with 3,400 fewer employees.

Still, we are a heck of a lot broker than our peers. Cutting costs through technology has been a Rauner theme, and a recent point of contention as our Madigan acolyte of a state comptroller, Susana Mendoza, blocked spending on technology that improves efficiencies and secures state financial systems and personnel records against hackers. Politics again take Illinoisans hostage.

If technology can be constantly vigilant with thermal cameras and software that can set off alarms if it recognizes an inmate fight, an escape attempt or someone trying to toss a bag of drugs into the fence, then cheaper and better is the way to go. Corrections officers can be better used than just staring out at a yard for months on end awaiting a few minutes of trouble.

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