Department of Corrections - RG 243 | Illinois State Archives
The first state penitentiary was authorized by the General Assembly in 1827 and was constructed at Alton (L. 1827, p. 353). Completed in 1831 this penitentiary was managed by a warden appointed by the General Assembly. He was overseen by four inspectors appointed by the Governor (L. 1831, p. 103). In 1857 a penitentiary at Joliet was authorized and convicts from Alton constructed the new institution. The warden was appointed by the Governor and no provision was made for a board of inspectors (L. 1857, p. 131). The Alton site was abandoned after the Joliet Penitentiary was completed in 1860. In 1867 three Penitentiary Commissioners were created by the legislature. They were appointed by the Governor and oversaw operations (L. 1867, p. 21). By 1877 an additional prison was required and the Southern Illinois Penitentiary at Chester (Menard) was authorized. It too was overseen by a three member Board of Commissioners which was appointed by the Governor to advise the warden and investigate operations (L. 1877, p. 30). The Illinois State Reformatory at Pontiac, which housed youthful offenders, had been authorized in 1867. It was overseen by a seven member Board of Trustees who were appointed by the Governor. The trustees appointed the superintendent (L. 1867, p. 38). In 1889 the Illinois Asylum for Insane Criminals was authorized. It was built on the grounds of the Southern Illinois Penitentiary at Chester (Menard) and was overseen by that institution's commissioners (L. 1889, p. 9).
Under the Civil Administrative Code of 1917, the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet, the Southern Illinois Penitentiary at Chester (Menard), the Illinois Asylum for Insane Criminals at Chester, and the Illinois State Reformatory at Pontiac, all were placed under the Department of Public Welfare but maintained their governing structures (L. 1917, p. 26). Also in 1917 the department was authorized to establish a state farm to house those convicted of minor crimes and serving short sentences. This facility was built at Vandalia (L. 1917, p. 223). In 1919 Stateville, an addition to the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet, was constructed (L. 1919, p. 96).
In 1933 the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet, the Southern Illinois State Penitentiary at Chester (Menard), the Illinois State Reformatory at Pontiac, and the Illinois Asylum for Insane Criminals were consolidated administratively as the Illinois State Penitentiary system. Individual penitentiary commissions were abolished. The Illinois Asylum for Insane Criminals became the Psychiatric Division of the system. The other three were branches known by their place names (L. 1933, p. 780). In 1941 the Department of Public Safety was placed in charge of the Joliet/Stateville, Pontiac, Menard (Chester), and Vandalia sites as well as the Illinois Security Hospital for insane criminals at Menard (Chester). The Illinois State Reformatory for Women at Dwight which was constructed in 1927 remained with the Department of Public Welfare until 1953 when it was transferred to the Department of Public Safety (L. 1927, p. 208 and L. 1953, p. 850).
The Department of Corrections was created in 1970 to include all state penal institutions. Joliet/Stateville, Pontiac, Menard, Vandalia, and the Security Hospital facilities were transferred to it by P.A. 76-428, p. 971. The Illinois State Reformatory for Women was transferred by P.A. 76-433, p. 993. All facilities for juveniles were transferred from the Illinois Youth Commission to the Department of Corrections by P.A. 76-429, pp. 982-983. On July 1, 2006, jurisdiction for the juvenile corrections system was transferred to the newly created Department of Juvenile Justice (P.A. 94-696, pp. 5107-5249).
For an administrative history of the PAROLE AND PARDON BOARD see RG 403.000.
Access to some of these records is restricted by the Freedom of Information Act (P.A. 83-1013) and the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill. Rev. Stat., ch. 38).