Budget cutters eye Joliet area again
HERALD-NEWS editorial February 25, 2012 5:08PM
The Illinois Youth Center-Joliet is on McDonough Street in Joliet. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 27, 2012 8:20AM
The debate continues about how and how many American citizens should be locked away in prisons, but the way Illinois makes that decision is the wrong way to approach the issue.
So, when Gov. Pat Quinn proposes closing the youth detention center in Joliet, cutting 250 jobs and sending the inmates to an undefined “somewhere else,” we’re left with skepticism.
Obviously, we are not happy that local residents will lose their jobs or that the Joliet area seems to be a continual target for governors looking to save money — the state shut down the Joliet Correctional Center, and Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill narrowly avoided being closed in 2008 due to local opposition.
But we’re less happy that prison decisions are being made for budgetary reasons rather than the overriding need to protect the public. And it’s not just prisons slated for closing — mental health centers are also on the hit list, including the one in Tinley Park that serves Will and South Cook counties.
The unstated component in the discussion is that closing about 60 state facilities to save money belies the real question — would Illinois contemplate doing so if the state had ever repaired, or will ever repair, its severe Medicaid and pension-funding issues?
Medicaid has doubled its annual cost to roughly $14 billion over the past 10 years, and the perpetual pension quagmire threatens to eventually bankrupt the state. We are told that Quinn and the Legislature will address both critical issues soon. Players in the state money game have assured us of that before, and we’re still waiting.
We are mindful that cutting Medicaid’s optional services will exact a cost on both the state’s poor (which upsets Democrats) and medical providers (which angers Republicans). But that’s the only way Illinois’ miserable finances can be repaired. Catastrophic problems need solutions on a grand scale.
Closing prisons and mental health centers is the easy way out politically because inmates and the mentally ill don’t have much of a public voice. But it’s not really that easy — prison overcrowding will get worse and who will provide comparable care for the mentally ill?
And it’s dishonest because it provokes unending public debate while the real budget problems are unaddressed.
Quinn and legislators must get serious about fixing those bigger problems. We need grown-up answers to grown-up problems.