SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close seven state facilities could trigger an avalanche of lawsuits, potentially delaying or even blocking the controversial proposal from getting off the ground.
Opponents of the Chicago Democrat's push to shut down mental health centers, prisons and homes for the developmentally disabled are pointing to a number of laws that would have to be changed in order for the plan to meet legal muster.
Among the potential roadblocks is a statute designating the Chester Mental Health Center as the state's sole facility for treating certain kinds of violence-prone residents. The governor wants to move the residents to an existing facility in Alton.
In addition, moving nearly 2,000 inmates out of the Logan Correctional Center will cause additional overcrowding in the state's already cramped prison system, potentially opening up the state to an inmate lawsuit.
"It seems like that is an inevitability," said John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group.
Quinn wants to shutter seven state facilities, including Logan, Chester, the Murphysboro youth prison, mental health centers in Rockford and Tinley Park and developmental centers in Dixon and Jacksonville.
He says the closures can be avoided if lawmakers give him more spending flexibility when they return next month for the fall veto session. If the General Assembly won't budge, however, the legal obstacles could block Quinn's gambit.
In a report to the legislature filed this week, Illinois Department of Corrections officials said placing inmates at other over-crowded medium-security facilities could tax inmate food service programs and require inmates to sleep in gymnasiums.
That, the report notes, could lead to a lawsuit.
"While IDOC is prepared to face the challenges of providing mandated services in a less than ideal situation, an increased risk of legal exposure is an evident possibility," the report notes.
In addition to requiring statutory changes allowing Alton to begin serving Chester residents, mental health advocate Mark Heyrman, a facilitor for the Chicago-based Mental Health Summit, said state laws limit how Quinn can use the savings he says he will get from closing the three centers.
All told, the administration acknowledges the moves could force 2,800 potential patients to use private treatment facilities and not-for-profit hospitals.
"That's a dumb idea. It won't work," Heyrman said.
Quinn also faces a grievance from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which inked a contract last year barring Quinn from laying off workers.