Two lawmakers renew call for prison-closing moratorium

Adriana Colindres

Launching the third week of their tour of Illinois prisons, Republican state Sens. Dan Rutherford and Christine Radogno stopped Monday at the Taylorville Correctional Center and called again on the governor to temporarily halt any prison closures.

The moratorium would stay in effect until a special panel completes a review of the state’s prisons and comes up with a long-range strategic plan for them. Rutherford, of Chenoa, and Radogno, of Lemont, say Gov. Rod Blagojevich could implement a prison-closing moratorium and create the new panel by issuing an executive order.

The senators’ tour, which also included prisons in Vandalia and Hillsboro, was inspired by the Blagojevich administration’s plan earlier this year to close part of Stateville prison near Joliet and its subsequent announcement that it would instead close the Pontiac Correctional Center.

“We’re not here to pull a fire alarm about Taylorville potentially being a closed facility,” Rutherford said. “That is not at all what this is about. But this is saying that you in Taylorville and Vandalia and Hillsboro have just as much of a vested interest (as Stateville and Pontiac) in making sure that there’s good, strategic long-range planning for Corrections. You don’t know what the governor may do overnight.”

“We need a plan,” Radogno said. “The department (of Corrections) doesn’t have a plan, or they have failed to produce it.”

In an e-mailed response, Corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp said: “These are very tough decisions to make when improving efficiency and closing facilities. DOC has internal experts who are well equipped to make such decisions. IDOC’s senior staff (possesses) decades of experience and a wealth of expertise and knowledge when it comes to these issues — they know the correctional system inside and out.”

The budget lawmakers sent to Blagojevich at the end of May includes full funding for the Pontiac and Stateville prisons, as well as for the expanded occupation of a newer prison at Thomson, Rutherford said.

Administration officials said last week that while money for the prisons is in the budget, that still could change because cuts might be made.

State government’s new fiscal year starts Tuesday, but no new budget is in place.

Blagojevich has said the budget lawmakers sent him is $2 billion out of balance. Last week, he threatened to make $1.5 billion in cuts unless the House votes for certain revenue-generating plans that the Senate already approved.

Comptroller Dan Hynes has said if no budget is in place by July 10, state government could start missing payrolls.

Rutherford said he does not expect the budget issue to be resolved until right around then.

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or