Lawmakers call on Quinn to keep prisons open
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org July 10, 2012 1:50PM
A bipartisan group of legislators called on Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday to cancel his plans to close four state prisons, including Illinois Youth Center-Joliet. | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: August 12, 2012 6:24AM
Nine legislators and a union leader are calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to halt his plan to close four prisons, including the Illinois Youth Center-Joliet.
During a conference call Tuesday morning, the bipartisan group said Quinn is out of synch with what Illinois residents want. Closing the four prisons — two adult and two juvenile — will jeopardize the safety of employees who work in the prisons and the inmates themselves, said Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents prison workers.
If prisoners from Tamms and Dwight are sent to other prisons, it could lead to overcrowding and the type of riot that occurred at Pontiac in the 1970s, Bayer warned.
Also, pushing more prisoners into fewer facilities could lead to earlier release dates, which could endanger the public, the group said.
But the governor’s office doesn’t appear to be budging.
“Anyone who calls to keep these outdated, half-full, expensive facilities open is calling for the continual waste of taxpayer dollars on facilities the state no longer needs,” Kelly Kraft, the governor’s budget spokeswoman, said in an email sent Tuesday afternoon after the conference call.
The prison population is declining, which will allow for safe transfers to other facilities, she said.
But Bayer said state prisons built to hold 33,000 inmates now are housing 49,000.
Joliet Democrats state Sen. Pat McGuire and state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. both participated in the call. They have been lobbying Quinn to keep IYC-Joliet open because it is the only maximum-security facility for male youths in the state.
Most of IYC-Joliet inmates are from Cook County, McGuire said. Sending them to facilities in St. Charles, Kewanee or Harrisburg will reduce family visits, which are “undeniably important” in the rehabilitation of inmates, McGuire said.
Walsh said in the long run, closing IYC-Joliet will cost more in transportation costs and renovations costs than it will save.
Tamms and Pontiac correctional centers and a youth center in Murphysboro are all scheduled to close Aug. 31. IYC-Joliet is scheduled to close Oct. 31.
In May, the General Assembly funded all four facilities at 100 percent. But on June 30, Quinn used his amendatory veto to cut funding for the facilities and to continue with his quest to close the prisons.
“Some will say that money was provided in the budget to keep these facilities open when in reality legislators made a choice on how to spend taxpayer dollars; choosing outdated, half-full, expensive prisons over educating our children and keeping them safe,” Kraft said.
Legislators on the conference call said they want Quinn to voluntarily halt his closure plans until the General Assembly reconvenes for the veto session in late November. They want a chance to override Quinn’s funding veto so the prisons will remain open.
If Quinn doesn’t voluntarily hold off on closures, Bayer said the General Assembly could call its own session this summer to vote on the override. Or, the union could take the issue to court, which it did when Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to close Pontiac Correctional Center in the 1990s, Bayer said.
State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said Quinn can’t use the money allocated for the four prisons for anything else without action by the General Assembly, so that could be a way to block the closures as well.
Bayer said it would be “highly undemocratic” of Quinn to proceed with the closures against the wishes of the General Assembly.
“We’re hoping the governor will come to his senses,” Bayer said.