Quinn gets go-ahead to close Illinois prisons
By John O’Connor The Associated Press December 19, 2012 6:32PM
Tamms Correctional Center
Updated: January 21, 2013 4:04PM
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Seven Illinois correctional facilities including the modern but hotly debated high-security Tamms prison will close within weeks after action by a judge Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn said.
The judge in Alexander County in far southern Illinois, where Tamms is located, lifted an injunction preventing the closures after receiving an order to do so by a divided state Supreme Court.
It allows Quinn to shutter Tamms, which opened in 1998; the women’s lockup in Dwight; two juvenile detention centers and three inmate halfway houses to save money in a budget crisis.
“The taxpayers of Illinois are the real winners today,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “Our state is facing unprecedented financial pressures and closing these facilities is one part of the long-term solution.”
But the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees continued to argue the closures would endanger the public because the prison system is overcrowded.
The union that represents state workers, including prison guards, said the judge took other action in rejecting the state’s request to dismiss AFSCME legal action over health and safety issues and “we will continue to vigorously pursue that case,” a spokesman said.
Quinn gave no exact timetable, only saying that the closures will “be completed in the coming weeks.” His administration contends the state could save more than $80 million a year by ceasing operations at the sites. Tamms and the juvenile centers have far fewer detainees than they’re designed to hold — partly because of the administration’s action — and the state cannot afford to run them, officials say.
But AFSCME points out that the adult prison system holds more than 49,000 inmates in space designed for 33,700.
“Closing any prison will worsen severe overcrowding throughout the correctional system and make the remaining prisons more dangerous for employees, inmates and the public,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said.
Quinn wanted Tamms, Dwight, the Illinois Youth Center-Murphysboro and the halfway houses closed by Aug. 31, with IYC-Joliet to follow Oct. 31. Officials said it has cost $7 million a month to keep them open while the government fought in court with the union.
Quinn went against the wishes of the Legislature, which sent him a state budget that included enough money to run the prisons and other health facilities, but the governor vetoed that money. The Senate last month voted to override the veto, which would have kept Quinn from using about $56 million earmarked for the prisons for other purposes, but the House did not attempt a similar vote.