House inaction may mean end for IYC-Joliet
By Tony Graf and Cindy Wojdyla Cain Staff Writers December 5, 2012 1:50PM
Illinois Youth Center employees cheer the support they receive from local officials during the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability public hearing on the proposed closure of the Illinois Youth Center at the Renaissance Center in Joliet, Illinois, Wednesday, April 4, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 7, 2013 7:16AM
Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget cuts that will force the closure of some prisons, including the Illinois Youth Center-Joliet and other state facilities, will stand.
The Illinois House didn’t consider an override vote Wednesday before adjourning on the last day of veto session. A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan says the speaker didn’t think it was a necessary action to take.
This prompted disagreement and disappointment from people who have tried to keep the McDonough Street facility open.
Last week, the Senate voted to reject cuts of $56 million to funds for the Tamms high-security prison and other sites, including a women’s prison in Dwight.
Quinn opposed the override.
He called Wednesday’s decision by House members not to call for a vote a victory for taxpayers.
He wants to improve child-protection program funding. His administration argues that Tamms and some juvenile detention centers are underutilized and that developmentally disabled residents in state institutions would fare better in community settings.
Reaction in Joliet
Joliet officials who had lobbied for the 52-year-old IYC-Joliet to remain open were not happy with Wednesday’s news.
“I disagree with the governor’s decision,” said City Councilman John Gerl, who represents the district that includes the facility.
The city will lose about 250 jobs and the state will lose its only maximum-security prison for juveniles, Gerl said.
“So where do you put these kids?” Gerl asked. “These are not kids who were stealing hubcaps. This is a maximum-security prison.”
Department of Juvenile Justice representatives have said inmates at IYC-Joliet will be sent to other facilities in Chicago, St. Charles and Kewanee.
State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, said he will continue to seek ways to keep the Joliet facility open.
“We’re looking at different avenues that we can approach this as we go forward,” Walsh said. “The funding’s there through Dec. 31. And hopefully, when we come back on Jan. 3, we may be able to come up with a different idea, whether it be a supplemental appropriation or something. So we’re going to be working together with the governor and the union to see if that’s something that’s feasible.”
Since he began as a state representative in May, Walsh has been trying to keep the facility open.
“It was one of our top priorities,” Walsh said. “We were able to get it in the budget last May. It passed both houses with bipartisan support. The governor, he did his amendatory veto. He’s got his reasonings, and we’ve been trying to convince him that it’s not the right idea.”
Last week, the Illinois Senate voted to override the governor’s veto and restore funding for the Joliet facility, said Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet. The vote had bipartisan support.
McGuire will continue in his efforts to keep the Illinois Youth Center-Joliet open. He also spoke of a possible supplemental appropriation in January.
Sharon Konopka is a representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, representing workers at the Joliet facility. She is disappointed that Madigan did not bring up the override for consideration.
“I believe every one of those members of the House of Representatives was elected to be a voice of the people. And I think they have the right to vote on that bill,” Konopka said. “I think not giving them the right to vote on that bill really kept matters in only one person’s hands. And I really don’t think that’s what democracy is all about.”
The importance of the Joliet facility can be seen in the type of offenders who are housed there, Konopka said.
“They’re violent, they’re dangerous,” she said. “Over 75 percent of them are facing adult charges in Cook County court, and we’re talking charges like murder or rape, criminal sexual assault — they have various weapons charges.”
“And these crimes were committed while the offenders were already on parole, already getting community placement, community substance abuse treatment — and decided not to bother with any type of community intervention,” Konopka said.
“They’re very seriously involved in gangs, they have zero respect for life, and they’re experienced criminals, basically, at the age that they are,” she said.
Konopka called it “a recipe for disaster” to house these offenders in a facility which was neither built nor staffed for them.
On Wednesday, Quinn issued a statement on the House’s sustaining of his budget vetoes.
“The Illinois House of Representatives sent a strong message about their serious commitment to reducing spending the state cannot afford,” Quinn said. “Closing these empty or half-empty prisons and juvenile detention centers that are no longer needed will save Illinois taxpayers $88 million a year, once the closures are fully implemented. These closures will strengthen our long-term effort to cut state expenses and put Illinois on sound financial footing.”
“Once permitted by the courts, inmates who are still at the facilities will be transferred to other nearby facilities where there is room for them,” Quinn said. “All guards and other personnel will be offered jobs at other nearby facilities. And the taxpayers of Illinois will no longer be on the hook for spending millions of dollars we don’t have on empty facilities.”
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.