PI Original Matthew Blake Thursday October 11th, 2012, 5:57pm

Quinn's Prison Closing Plan In Limbo

Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close seven state corrections and juvenile justice facilities, including Tamms super max prison, is in serious jeopardy after Circuit Court Judge Charles Cavaness sided with AFSCME yesterday and issued an injunction to stop the shut downs.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close seven state corrections and juvenile justice facilities, including Tamms super max prison, is in serious jeopardy after Circuit Court Judge Charles Cavaness sided with AFSCME yesterday and issued an injunction to stop the shut downs.

But Quinn’s plan could still go forward. A higher court might overrule Cavaness or a labor arbitrator may side with the governor in their dispute with the AFSCME Council 31 public employees union, which represents corrections and juvenile justice employees.

For now, the state will indefinitely continue to pay what Quinn’s office estimates to be $7 million a month to keep the facilities open.

One consequence of the ruling is that the governor’s desire to shift $57 million that would have been saved from the closings to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) during the Illinois General Assembly’s November fall veto session probably won’t happen. AFSCME wants the General Assembly to undo cuts made to DCFS, whose employees are also represented by the union.

AFSCME contends that Quinn and the General Assembly can find the money it plans to gain from the DCFS cuts elsewhere, such as the $165 million the state is set to receive from last week's sale of Thomson prison to the federal government. AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall says that Quinn sat on the sidelines as DCFS started cuts and privatization of its intact family services program when more could have been done.

Quinn’s office says that, even after the injunction, restoring DCFS funding is a priority. “As we approach the fall veto session, we continue to work with the General Assembly to ensure DCFS has the funding they need to do their job of protecting children and helping families,” says spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.

In June, Quinn vetoed money the General Assembly appropriated to fund the operation of Tamms, Dwight women’s prison, two youth prisons, and three halfway houses. The governor had already scheduled the closing of Tamms and Dwight, the most expensive of these facilities to operate, for August 31.

AFSCME sued, claiming that the governor broke the union’s contract by not negotiating over the closings' potential impact. The union also said that the shut downs would pose a danger to their employees, arguing that the closures would exacerbate an already significant prison overcrowding problem.

Arbitrator Steve Biereg sided with the union in August on the question of negotiating over the closures' impact. Following Biereg’s decision, Cavaness placed a temporary restraining order on each facility closing, ruling that Quinn must halt inmate transfers and changes to the status of employees.

The injunction puts it in the hands of the arbitrator to work with Quinn and AFSCME, and decide if there’s a plan to close the facilities that also recognizes the contractual rights and safety of employees. Meanwhile, Quinn’s office will also appeal the injunction, and hope they can bring the case directly before the Illinois Supreme Court.

While Quinn may yet prevail, AFSCME has won victories each step of the way, including the initial legislative funding. “Everyone who has considered the question of these closures has looked at it and said ‘no,’” Lindall says.

A coterie of prison reform advocates, though, have fiercely supported the governor, almost entirely due to the planned closure of Tamms. Groups like Tamms Year Ten point out that the super max facility places inmates in solitary confinement and has consistently run afoul of international human rights monitors.

“Illinois should have never built an isolation chamber,” says Tamms Year Ten organizer Laurie Jo Reynolds. “For 14 years, we have paid exorbitant costs for a prison that drove people to the depths of madness and suicide.”

Reynolds also argues that Tamms is mostly irrelevant to the prison overcrowding issue as the majority of its beds go unused. Lindall takes issue with this contention, saying that shuttering Tamms will have a “domino effect” where prisoners transferred out of the facility will cause dangerous overcrowding at maximum-security prisons in Pontiac and Menard.

Regardless, some issues related to Tamms – the human rights issue of solitary confinement and a half-empty facility that is said to hold the state’s most dangerous inmates – would seem quite distinct from the overall facility and state budget debate.

Yet AFSCME, Quinn – and Judge Cavaness – have lumped together all seven facilities throughout the extended legal battle.

Image: AP

Comments

Everything is about money. What happened to human rights and fairness. As we speak, my sister in Christ is incarcerated. She was at Dwight and recently sent to Lincoln. I can honestly say, I watched the news media, the police, and the prosecutors lie on her and dog her out. This woman lost everything she had. Her house, good job, and son. All because of lies that were told on her. Or as the prosecutor told her" I'm going to make an example out of you". I have no faith in our system whatsoever. These are people lives that are being played with. She has never been in trouble with the law, very family orientated. Her oldest sister passed away in may, her other sister had brain surgery and is still in the hospital with other major illness. And we haven't told her because of her incarceration. She feels like she is losing her mind. So to all that's involved in this, hurry up and make a decision. I pray that she gets early release with or without home monitor.

Doesn't AFSME have any money? What about all the contributions down through the years. AFSME: tell your members you will train them and find them other jobs. Not closing these prisons at the behest of the LABOR UNION, FOR GOD'S SAKE, is pitting the 99% against the bottom .01%. !!Get real prison guards!! Whose side are you on? An offense against one is an offense to all.

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