Decision on Illinois prisons leaves workers in limbo

2012-10-11T23:45:00Z 2012-10-12T05:26:17Z Decision on Illinois prisons leaves workers in limboKurt Erickson The Quad-City Times
October 11, 2012 11:45 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD — A southern Illinois judge’s decision to continue blocking Gov. Pat Quinn from closing state prison facilities likely will leave workers in limbo for more than another month.

In a ruling handed down Wednesday, Associate Circuit Court Judge Charles Cavaness said the Quinn administration must negotiate with the state’s largest employee union over safety concerns associated with his plan to shut down facilities in Tamms, Dwight, Murphysboro, Carbondale and Decatur.

Although Quinn said those negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union will continue, his administration plans to appeal the ruling to the state’s highest court. The timing of that appeal has not been determined, but the process is likely to take several weeks to resolve.

Some lawmakers hope to resolve the issue during the fall veto session, which begins more than a month from now in late November.

“At that time, I think there will be a strong push by a number of legislators to restore funding for these institutions and hopefully convince Governor Quinn to re-evaluate his poor decision to close these needed prisons,” said state Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign.

Abdon Pallasch, spokesman for Quinn’s budget office, said he’s unaware of any support by Quinn for a legislative alternative to closing the facilities.

“I don’t think that would be a prescription for a cure,” Pallasch said.

In the meantime, workers at the now-empty youth prison in Murphysboro likely will continue being shuttled to other youth facilities for a few hours each day while the standoff continues. Most spend about 5.5 hours at the youth prison in Harrisburg doing many of the same jobs they did when Murphysboro was operating.

Employees were told Thursday that the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice has no plans to move any juveniles back into the facility while the impasse drags on.

A department spokeswoman said it would cost too much to begin operating the facility again.

“It would require a significant and impractical additional investment to ‘reopen’ Murphysboro with youth present after having essentially shut down operations after the final youth left approximately three months ago in preparation for the August 31 closure date,” Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Jennifer Florent said.

Although employees and inmates aren’t being transferred while negotiations continue, work to prepare existing facilities for additional inmates remains on track.

“The department is continuing to make needed infrastructure improvements at these facilities,” Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano said in an email. “The preliminary injunction does not preclude the department from executing this work.”

For example, the state is spending $46,300 to install fences at Logan Correctional Center to accommodate inmates being moved when the all-female prison in Dwight is shuttered.

Corrections officials also have ordered 38 new toilets to be installed at Sheridan Correctional Center to accommodate additional inmates from Logan. The cost: $1,250 per stool.

Cells and other areas at both Logan and Pontiac Correctional Center are being retrofitted with new door panels to protect guards from violent inmates from Tamms and Dwight.

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