Legislative panel: Don't close prisons, mental facilities
SPRINGFIELD -- A bipartisan legislative commission Tuesday rejected Gov. Pat Quinn’s plans to close mental health facilities and prisons around the state.
In a series of votes, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted against closing the “supermax” prison in Tamms, a prison halfway house in Peoria and a women’s prison in Dwight.
The commission also decided to let stand votes it previously cast against closing the Jacksonville Developmental Center and the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford.
The only facility COGFA agreed should close was a Department of Children and Family Services office in Skokie.
The COGFA votes are only advisory, and Quinn is under no obligation to go along with them. The administration issued a noncommittal statement when asked about the COGFA votes.
“We respect the role of COGFA in the facility closure process, as well as their engaged questioning throughout,” the statement said. “We have incorporated a great deal of their input into our facility closure plans. However, we must continue to deal with our budget challenges and make the difficult decisions necessary to restore fiscal stability to Illinois.”
Jacksonville moves under way
The process of moving 185 residents out of the Jacksonville Developmental Center has started.
“The process is under way and people have begun to move,” said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.
Marty Milligan, secretary of the parents’ group at JDC, said she understands, but cannot confirm, that another four residents are moving out this week. She said there’s no indication the state has stopped the process of preparing to close the center.
Milligan, whose son has been at JDC for 10 years, understands the COGFA vote is not binding.
“The governor still has the power to close it,’ Milligan said. “I take some encouragement from (the COGFA vote), but it’s not a done deal.”
In all, Quinn proposed closing two adult prisons, six adult transition centers, two juvenile justice facilities, two mental health centers and two centers for the developmentally disabled.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees issued a statement lauding the COGFA votes.
“We call on Governor Quinn to listen to the commission and withdraw his ill-considered closure plans, and we urge the legislature to make sure all state facilities are fully funded in (next year’s) budget,” said executive Director Henry Bayer.
Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, voted against closing any facilities, saying the state should find money elsewhere to keep them open. He suggested economic development money from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity might be used or local communities might raise revenue to keep facilities open.
Poe also said expanded gambling might be the solution. A bill passed the General Assembly last year, but was never sent to Quinn because he said he would veto it. Poe said expanded gambling would produce more than enough revenue to keep the facilities open.
The administration says closing facilities will save nearly $89 million while eliminating more than 1,160 jobs.
COGFA held eight hearings around the state, hearing from 375 witnesses and compiling nearly 7,000 pages of documents.
Rep. Patricia Bellock, R-Hinsdale, co-chairman of COGFA, said three issues kept surfacing at the hearings: the reason for the facility to be in existence, the jobs that would be lost if it closed, and the economic impact on the area. When hearings were held about closing mental health facilities, the testimony was “heart-wrenching,” Bellock said.
Most of the closures drew little comment from COGFA members. Rep. Mike Tyron, R-Crystal Lake, questioned what will happen in other prisons if inmates from Tamms were transferred into them.
Both Tyron and Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, said the state should consider how it can reuse facilities if they are closed.
Bellock said inmates who go through the Peoria Adult Transition Center are far less likely to return to prison than those who don’t. She also said closing the women’s prison in Dwight will cause inmates – most of them from Cook County – to be moved much farther from their homes.
Bellock and Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, both said they support the concept of moving developmentally disabled people from institutions to community settings, but said the timeframe advanced by Quinn is too ambitious.
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.
Here are the facilities the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability cast votes on Tuesday. All of the votes are on resolutions to close the facilities.
Tamms Correctional Center 3-7.
Dwight Correctional Center 3-7.
Illinois Youth Center in Joliet 5-5 (resolution dies on a tie vote).
Peoria Adult Transition Center 0-10.
Westside Adult Transition Center in Chicago 5-5.
Murray Developmental Center in Centralia 3-7.
Department of Children and Family Services office in Skokie 10-0.
COGFA reiterated its previous votes against closing these facilities:
Jacksonville Developmental Center.
Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford.
Tinley Park Mental Health Center.
Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro.