SPRINGFIELD – A legal effort to improve the living conditions at a Southern Illinois prison is on hold for at least another month to let Gov. Bruce Rauner review a proposed settlement agreement.
In an order filed last week, U.S. Magistrate Philip Frazier gave attorneys for the state an extra 30 days to file a preliminary agreement outlining the steps that will be taken to correct problems at the Vienna Correctional Center.
"Due to the change in administrations, the defendants require additional time to obtain approval to agree to any unresolved terms," attorneys for the state noted in their request for an extension.
The delay is the latest example of a state in transition after Rauner took over for Democrat Pat Quinn on Jan. 12. The Republican governor has spent his first weeks in office replacing top agency officials and reviewing issues left in limbo after Quinn's exit.
Along with giving him time to review the Vienna case, Rauner has put a hold on all major transportation projects, including the proposed Illiana Expressway, a controversial toll road that could connect Interstate 55 in Will County with Interstate 65 in Indiana. Quinn also left decisions on the state's medical marijuana program in Rauner's lap.
The Vienna case stems from allegations raised in a 2012 lawsuit that said inmates at the minimum-security prison were living in moldy, cockroach- and mouse-infested quarters with insufficient bathroom facilities in some of the buildings.
In addition to the shoddy facilities, the lawsuit said a lack of educational and vocational programs was creating additional tensions among prisoners.
"Fights routinely break out over theft as well as petty issues," the suit said.
Under Quinn, the Illinois Department of Corrections began making attempts to upgrade the facility after the lawsuit was filed. And, the agency hosted a tour of the prison for the media to highlight some of the improvements.
The judges involved in the class action lawsuit also visited the prison last year to see how the current conditions match up with what the prisoners alleged.
Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said the agency would not discuss what issues remain unresolved in the case.
"(W)e don't comment on pending litigation," he noted in an email.
Under the new timetable for the case, the deadline for the two sides to submit a proposed settlement agreement is Feb. 17.