A proposal by Gov. Pat Quinn to close multiple state facilities – including prisons and also centers for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled – could unravel.
“In Springfield, proposed facility closures are not infrequent, but enacting the closures are,” acknowledged John Maki, director of the John Howard Association, a prison reform group lobbying to close the supermax prison in Tamms, but lobbying to keep open the women’s prison in Dwight.
The Senate passed a fiscal year 2013 budget last week that would keep open both Tamms and Dwight. And the chairman of the House Appropriations committee, State Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago), indicated that he too wants to keep both prisons open.
Also, the Senate package keeps open a mental health center in Tinley Park and facilities for the developmentally disabled in Centralia and Jacksonville.
The state legislature, though, is fluid and chaotic, with both the House and Senate sorting through many major bills at once and facing a legislative session deadline of tomorrow.
Prison reform advocates cheered Quinn’s proposed closure of Tamms. The prison was intended to temporarily hold misbehaving inmates in solitary confinement, but ended up permanently holding people in tiny cells for 23 hours with meals shoved through a cell door hole. Closing Tamms is supposed to save the state $27 million.
But the AFSCME Local 31 public employees union has vociferously fought against the closing of Tamms and other facilities. They note that shuttering every facility Quinn wants closed means about 2,400 layoffs, and also would significantly hit some rural downstate economies.
Crucially, a bipartisan commission of Illinois lawmakers also weighed in against the facility closings. The commission argued against the closings of both Tamms and Dwight, arguing that there is a “need for a comprehensive plan for prison closures and consolidations.” Quinn need not follow the commission’s recommendations, but they may be driving the budget process.
Maki would be happy if lawmakers found the about $37 million needed each year to run Dwight – he claims the state lacks a sufficient plan to transfer Dwight’s 961 female inmates. The commission, meanwhile, also focused on the direct and indirect jobs that would be lost by closing the women’s prison.
The commission additionally spoke out against closing the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia, which serves the developmentally disabled. They called, again, for a “better long-term” plan that would “ensure the safety and security of current center residents.”
Meanwhile, mental health advocates are skeptical of closing the Tinley Park Mental Health Center, arguing that the state does not have the resources to route patients to community care, as the Quinn administration wants.