Prison closures still in limbo

2012-12-12T17:15:00Z Prison closures still in limboKurt Erickson The Quad-City Times
December 12, 2012 5:15 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision to remove a key roadblock in Gov. Pat Quinn’s push to close a handful of state prisons doesn’t mean the facilities are going to be shuttered immediately.

Before anything can happen, a series of legal steps still must occur, including the lifting of a temporary restraining order that has kept Gov. Pat Quinn from closing facilities in Tamms, Dwight, Murphysboro, Decatur, Carbondale and Joliet.

“We’ll follow the proper legal process,” Quinn told reporters at an event in Chicago Wednesday.

In a decision handed down Tuesday, the high court said Alexander County Judge Charles Cavaness must lift an order granted to the state’s largest employee union, which had allowed the facilities to remain open while a court battle played out.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union says the lifting of the order may not be the last legal maneuver they’ll try in their bid to stop Quinn.

The union also could ask the General Assembly to intercede in the budget fight again.

In the meantime, however, the union acknowledged the high court’s decision was a blow to its chances.

“The injunction is vital to upholding the union’s right to seek judicial review of an arbitrator’s findings on crucial health and safety concerns,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said in a prepared statement.

The governor’s office was not offering a timeline Wednesday for how soon the closures would begin if the Chicago Democrat gets a green light from Cavaness.

But the Murphysboro youth prison, which currently houses no inmates, could be among the first to be formally shuttered. The Tamms facility, which is less than half full, could follow next.

The transfer of inmates from Dwight to Logan Correctional Center could take longer because Logan inmates will have to be moved out first, and Lincoln Correctional Center will have to be converted from a female lock-up to one housing men.

The Supreme Court’s decision left some observers confused about whether it will speed up the closure process.

“I’m still trying to determine what it actually means,” Dwight Mayor Bill Wilkey said.

Wilkey said he still doesn’t think the closure of the all-female prison in Livingston County will save as much as Quinn has predicted.

For example, Wilkey said the facility is a historic landmark that must be maintained by the state, which will cost money.

“The whole thing just doesn’t make any sense,” Wilkey said.

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