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Dart Suggests Using Old Joliet Prison For NATO Arrests

Updated 04/29/12 - 4:51 p.m.

JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) -- The NATO summit is just weeks away and Chicago officials are figuring out how to handle the thousands of protestors expected to turn out for the meetings.

One issue police are trying to figure out is where to send detainees if there are large-scale arrests, given that Cook County Jail is already at capacity.

As CBS 2's Derrick Blakley reports, one idea is using the long-shuttered Joliet Correctional Center.

With Cook County Jail already at capacity, Sheriff Tom Dart would need someplace else to house large numbers of detainees that might be arrested during the NATO summit next month.

One idea would be to put up tents in the yard at Cook County Jail, but Dart said it would make more sense to use the empty Joliet Correctional Center, which was shut down in 2002.

But Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante and at least one protest leader said Sunday that the shuttered Joliet prison isn't the answer.

For 10 years, it's been shut down and locked up tight.

It used to house convicted felons for 144 years, and Dart thinks it might be the perfect place to send NATO protesters if there are mass arrests for serious crimes during the summit in three weeks.

A sheriff's spokesman said, "it is (an option) that the sheriff's office is exploring."

But Giarrante says it's no option at all. He said it's not feasible to reopen the old prison on such short notice.

"The cells are very rusty, the paint's peeling. I don't see at all how they can use the cells at all," he said.

If the cells at Joliet won't work, Dart suggested pitching tents in the prison yard.

But Giarrante said that won't work either.

"They had their own well, they had their own electricity, so there's no electric or water in there," he said. "They could put the tents in there, but they couldn't expect the people, whoever they arrest, to live in there without water and electricity."

It's tough to tell how many arrests to expect during the summit.

In 2010, 1,100 people were arrested at the G-20 summit in Toronto. At the G8 summit in Japan in 2008, only 44 people were arrested.

But protest leader Andy Thayer claimed the Dart proposal is part of a plan to scare off demonstrators.

"I think it's totally absurd," he said. "This place was a hellhole when it was shut down a decade ago. One can only imagine what it looks like today."

Girrante said a recent study showed it would take $4 million just to upgrade the prison enough to make it safe to occupy – money the city doesn't have.

The old prison is in such bad shape, the Illinois Department of Corrections tried to give it to Joliet for free, but officials said no.

The facility has been featured several times on Chicago-based TV shows and films. In "Blues Brothers," Jake Elwood was released from the prison at the beginning of the movie. It was also featured in the 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "Red Heat," and the 2005 Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen movie "Derailed."

The facility was also used to film the first season of the Fox network TV show "Prison Break." It was also featured on an episode of the 1990s TV show "Early Edition," and an episode of Fox's "Bones."

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