JOLIET – The city announced Wednesday an agreement with the Illinois Department of Corrections to prosecute trespassers at the old prison on Collins Street.
The Joliet Correctional Center was vacated in 2002 and has fallen into disrepair with occasional incidents arising from people breaking into the prison.
The agreement with the state gives the city the authority to prosecute trespassers on its own, Joliet Chief of Police Brian Benton said.
"It's going to help us be more proactive," Benton said. "It's definitely not safe in there."
Benton said the city wants to prevent trespassing to avoid potential danger to people who get inside the prison. The most recent incident occurred in January when two teen girls entered the prison and one locked herself in a cell.
"That helped light the fire to get this agreement passed," Benton said.
There is a pending trespassing case against the two teens.
In the past, Benton said, the state has not provided witnesses to prosecute in trespassing cases. The agreement gives the city the authority to testify against trespassers.
Both the Department of Corrections and city police patrol the old prison.
But the city could do little when trespassers were found, said City Manager Jim Hock.
"All we could do to people is shoo them away and tell them not to come back," Hock said.
Joliet police officers and firefighters also face hazards when they enter the prison for a rescue. Hock said the January incident was an example of why the city needs to keep trespassers out.
"The point is our fire department had to go over there – had to find them," Hock said. "They had to bust a hole in the hall. It took them away from other emergencies that could have happened."
In 2013, a fire destroyed a warehouse building at the prison. The fire was believed to have been started by a trespasser.
Hock also said the city hopes prosecution of trespassers will deter people from entering the prison.
According to the city, the prison buildings are not being maintained. As a result, floors have collapsed, walls have crumbled and roofs are failing, which creates hazards for trespassers.