Ilinois Gov. Quinn Forges Ahead with Prison Closures

Gov. Pat Quinn is moving forward with plans to shut down several prisons for adults and juveniles, even though lawmakers set aside money to keep them open.
by | June 20, 2012

By Ray Long and Monique Garcia, Chicago Tribune

Gov. Pat Quinn is moving forward with plans to shut down several prisons for adults and juveniles, even though lawmakers set aside money to keep them open.

The move sets the stage for a showdown between Quinn, the state's largest employee union and lawmakers who may seek to overturn the governor's actions during the fall session.

A spokeswoman with Quinn's budget office confirmed the plans to close the super-maximum prison near Tamms in far southern Illinois along with the Dwight Correctional Center in central Illinois and juvenile justice centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. Three transitional centers for inmates, including one on Chicago's West Side, also would be closed.

Budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the closures will save the state about $62 million, some of which will be redistributed within the Corrections Department.

"The governor's decision to close several facilities was made after careful consideration and extensive deliberation," Kraft said. "The fact remains that the state can no longer afford these facilities if we truly want to address the state's budget challenges that have been created over decades of fiscal mismanagement."

At stake is ensuring that the already overcrowded prison system remains safe and that hundreds of workers in middle-class jobs stay employed throughout Illinois, said Anders Lindall, spokesman for theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Lindall said the union will keep the pressure on because a legislative panel rejected Quinn's plans to close the facilities and the General Assembly came up with funding.

Quinn has been in a tug of war with lawmakers over how to cut costs, but lawmakers who reviewed the closures recommended that the facilities stay open.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said it's within the governor's power to decide not to spend money lawmakers have set aside in the budget. Currie said while many lawmakers opposed the closures for political reasons, others believed that the facilities were outdated and should be shuttered.

"The decision ends up being on (Quinn's) lap," Currie said.

Lawmakers could seek to reopen the prisons and provide funding this fall, or try to negotiate with Quinn, but it might be a tougher road once a facility is closed.

While the governor's office plans to move forward with the prison closures, it has postponed shutting down transitional centers in Peoria and Aurora where inmates go before re-entering society. However, a second Chicago transitional center known as Crossroads also is under review for possible closure, Kraft said.

The majority of closures will go into effect by Aug. 31, except for the youth center in Joliet, which will close by Oct. 31. Layoff notices will be sent to employees shortly.

(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune

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