Ill. legislative commission rejects Quinn closures | St. Louis Public Radio

Ill. legislative commission rejects Quinn closures

May 1, 2012

Updated at 6:15 am Wednesday. Reporting from Amanda Vinicky in Springfield and Jacob McCleland in Cape Girardeau was used in this report.

An Illinois legislative commission has signaled its opposition to Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close two prisons and a state center for people with developmental disabilities.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted 7-3 on Tuesday against closing prisons in Tamms and Dwight, and the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia. Tamms is the state's "super-max" facility that houses the most dangerous inmates, and the Dwight Correctional Center houses female inmates.

"My concern with Tamms and several of the other ones is the plan itself," said Republican state Rep. Ptricia Bellock, who chairs the commission. "Right off the bat, the plan in Tamms is to take a lot of those people to Menard, which originally they said was overcrowded right now by 300 people."

State Rep. Mike Tyron also voted no, saying he could not vote to close prisons without a plan for the buildings.

"I would hope that part of that plan, we would have seen a repurposing of these buildings, that we had a study, that we might have reached out on how we could use our secure detention rather than close it," he said. "So I’m going to be voting to keep these open. Not because I couldn’t close them. I don’t like the plan on what we’re going to do after we make the closures."

Centralia mayor Tom Ashby says he'll fight to keep Murray open and preserve 550 jobs. Closure, he says, would cause economic pain across five counties in south-central Illinois.

"It's a great economic engine, as you can understand," he said. "Marion County had 12.3 percent unemployment. We rank in the top five in unemployment, we've had all kinds of layoffs and other closures within our community, so something like this would actually just cripple the economy of this city, but more importantly, just the people that live in the community as well."

Ashby says that if Quinn decides to go through with the closures, the administration should use Murray as a transition center for developmentally disabled residents moving from institutional settings to group homes.

The commission's action is only advisory - Gov. Quinn is still free to close the facilities. He says the closures are necessary to the state get its budget deficit under control.