SPRINGFIELD — Memos distributed to state employees Tuesday say Gov. Pat Quinn has made a “final decision” to close prisons in Dwight and Tamms, a youth facility in Murphysboro and inmate transition centers in Carbondale and Decatur.
The one-page letter distributed to workers at the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice say the facilities will be shuttered by Aug. 31.
Speaking Tuesday night, Dwight Mayor Bill Wilkey said the closures appear to target downstate facilities.
“As you can see, there’s no Chicago facilities that are in that (announcement),” Wilkey said. “This is the second year in a row (Quinn) has come out and chopped up Southern Illinois facilities while leaving Chicago facilities alone.”
Wilkey said the cost of transferring prisoners and the displacement of important services at the Dwight facility make the closure a questionable move from a money-saving standpoint.
“We’ve got the only dialysis unit, mental health unit,” Wilkey said. “There’s so many things that these women need. We want to get them back into society, and the way (Quinn’s) going about it, he’s just going to create a bigger mess of this.”
It was not clear Tuesday whether Quinn also would go forward with closing other state facilities, including centers for developmentally disabled Illinoisans in Centralia and Jacksonville.
The governor announced his plans to close the facilities in February, saying they would save $88 million during tough budget times.
But lawmakers in May approved a spending plan that includes money to keep the facilities operating. Quinn has not yet signed the budget. A spokeswoman for his budget office would only describe the contents of the memos as “accurate.”
Democrats and Republicans slammed Quinn Tuesday for his apparent decision to ignore the legislative budget plan and potentially make an overcrowded prison system even more overcrowded.
“To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement,” said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville. “Multiple times we have asked the governor about his long-term plans for corrections, and each time the administration responds with ineptness and a lack of coherent thoughts.”
State Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, called the move to close Dwight “reckless.”
“They are clearly not thinking about the effect this decision will have on the local community as well as the safety impacts on our correctional system,” Cultra said in a statement.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said the governor is “out of touch” when it comes to the need for Tamms, which is Illinois’ only super-maximum security prison designed to house inmates who pose a danger to other prisoners and guards.
“The governor’s plan is not a responsible way to address the state’s financial problems, which is why I proposed a plan where the prison could be retooled to become more of a standard prison,” Phelps said in a statement. “This would save much needed jobs and help to address the overcrowding within our state’s prisons. I believe that Governor Quinn does not know the huge mistake he is making.”
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who, as a state senator fought to keep Pontiac Correctional Center open, also weighed in Tuesday.
“Closing prisons will only exacerbate the overcrowding we face in Illinois with our prison population. Overcrowded prisons pose a real danger to employees and local communities,” said the Chenoa Republican.
Under Quinn’s original closure plan, more than 2,300 state employees could lose their positions. However, some of them may be able to move into existing vacancies at nearby prisons and youth centers.