Next week could decide fate of Illinois Youth Center
by bob okon email@example.com November 29, 2012 8:04PM
The Illinois Youth Center in Joliet, Ill. | File photo
Updated: January 1, 2013 6:32AM
Legislators and a state employees union have blocked the governor from closing Illinois Youth Center-Joliet, Dwight Correctional Center and other prison facilities for weeks.
How much longer this lasts may be signaled next week when the Illinois House votes whether to keep funding the prisons and a judge could decide whether Gov. Pat Quinn can move ahead with his plan.
Quinn has the power to shut down the prisons whether legislators and union employees like it or not. But his power has been sapped by court actions and funding maneuvers.
An injunction from an Alexander County judge keeps Quinn from closing the Joliet youth detention center and other prisons. And the legislators so far have kept him from using the estimated $56 million savings from prison closings on anything else.
The next court hearing in Alexander County is Wednesday. And an Illinois House vote next week could keep funding intact for the prisons even if the governor wins his battle in court to shut them down.
The Illinois Senate already voted Wednesday to override Quinn’s veto of legislative funding for the prisons. The House, expected to vote next week, would have to override the veto as well to keep the funding intact.
State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, said a House vote to override Quinn’s veto “is no sure thing.” But, he said, “If we can get it called (for a vote), I will be a sure vote for it.” Quinn is trying to win House members to his side. The problem for Quinn is that he can close the prisons without the legislators’ approval. But he can’t spend the $56 million without their OK.
A spokesman for the governor would not say whether the governor would move ahead with the prison closings without the funding in hand.
“After next week’s vote, we’ll see where we go from there,” spokesman Abdon Pallasch said.
Quinn wants to use $36 million of the money to maintain staffing numbers at the Department of Children and Family Services. About 190 jobs would be cut without the money.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have been fighting the governor in court, contending that his plan jeopardizes safety for workers in the prisons that would remain open.
So far the union has been buying time by winning court delays in the prison closings.
Sharon Konopka, an AFSCME representative for workers in IYC-Joliet, said she hopes the delays along with legislative votes that block the governor’s ability to use the money elsewhere, will eventually have an impact on Quinn.
“It may give him a second thought,” Konopka said. “He may develop a conscience and say, ‘Why is there such a push to keep these facilities open?’”
Konopka and advocates for IYC-Joliet say the detention center is needed for hardened juvenile criminals. She said the type of inmates in Joliet are not going to become part of the community-based programs advocated by Quinn. The governor and his supporters, meanwhile, are calling for fewer prisons for youth offenders and more community programs.
In the meantime, Konopka said she and other AFSCME members are headed for Springfield ahead of the House vote, hoping to keep the governor in a financial bind.
“He doesn’t have to keep us open,” Konopka said, “but he can’t spend the money either.”