Amid the focus in Springfield yesterday on pensions, the General Assembly passed its entire budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1. The package delivered an expected rebuke of Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close multiple state facilities.
The Tamms supermax prison, a women’s prison in Dwight, the mental health center in Tinley Park, and developmentally disabled centers in Jacksonville and Centralia all received funding to stay open, along with smaller state facilities Quinn wants closed.
However, the governor may opt to close the mental health and developmentally disabled centers, and Tamms will no longer be a supermax facility.
According to State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Department of Human Services agency budget allows Quinn “the flexibility to transfer money” from Tinley Park, Jacksonville, and the Murray Developmental Disability Center in Centralia to community care centers.
That could mean déjà vu for Quinn and social service advocates that tangled last year over the potential closing of the Tinley Park facility. Quinn announced last year that the mental health center was closing only to reverse course and delay closure until June 30 of this year. Quinn has reiterated his intentions to close the center by June 30 – in his budget speech in February and in administration remarks to the Chicago Tribune last week – despite a legislative panel recommending against the closure.
As for prisons, language in the final budget would convert Tamms from its current status as an arguably notorious supermax facility to a medium-security prison. This is a major victory for prison reform advocates.
“The devil is in the details but it is a very good compromise,” says John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association.
However, Maki wonders if the Department of Corrections and state as a whole has really addressed its awful financial situation with this budget. “Illinois still has a serious fiscal problem,” Maki says. “This is not the last you will hear about proposed facility closures.”
AFSCME Local 31, the state’s largest public employee union, applauded the move to keep the facilities open.
The debate this spring over facility closures often boiled down to Quinn looking out for the overall financial interests of Illinois, and lawmakers concerned about protecting their own constituents.
The argument that carried the day was that while, for example, Dwight women’s prison serves a quite different role than the Jacksonville center for the developmentally disabled, the closure of each would cost jobs and economic activity in already economically downbeat rural areas. “Legislators oppose massive layoffs in their communities,” says AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall.