State prisons to stop inmate transfers

August 8, 2012

Closing prisons is politically volatile stuff. Previous governors have tried it without much success.

Governor Quinn's prison closing plan was slated to go forward at the end of this month, but a judge in far downstate Alexander County Wednesday put the brakes on it.

It's a preliminary decision, but one that raises doubt about the timetable, and questions about the plan overall.

Governor Quinn wants to shut some prisons to save money, but the union representing corrections department employees filed a lawsuit to stop the closings.

The state's supermax prison at Tamms was built to house the worst of the worst, inmates like I-57 killer Henry Brisbon, who've attacked or killed other inmates and guards.

The union representing correctional officers contends that closing Tamms and moving those most violent inmates to other prisons ratchets up risk and danger to unacceptable levels.

A downstate judge Wednesday decided that inmate transfers, which had already started, must be put on hold at least until the union can formally make its case.

Michael Newman/AFSCME

The governor has argued that closing Tamms and four other facilities can be done safely, and is a matter of economic necessity, one that would save Illinois $100 million a year.

"You know they say figures don't lie but liars figure," said Dwight Mayor Bill Wilkey. "I think that's what's going on here."

Wilkey cuts hair in Dwight. He's also mayor of the town 80 miles southwest of Chicago that is home to the state's only maximum security prison for women.

The governor's plan would close Dwight- move all the female prisoners to another downstate prison that would have to transfer out its male population to another prison.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Dwight correctional officer Dan Dunlap. "The plan I've seen so far doesn't work."

The prison has meant jobs and economy for Dwight for 80 years. Ultimately, he thinks the prison will be saved, but for now there's uncertainty.

"They're playing with people's lives," he said. "It's sad to me. Really sad."

However unpopular and unpleasant the prison closings may be, the governor's office says they are economically essential, and ultimately will make sense without endangering health and safety.

There is supercharged disagreement on that, and the judge's decision Wednesday offers both sides the opportunity to make their full-blown arguments.

They're back in court on the 17th of this month.

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