Treasurer Rutherford: Quinn Should Back Off Prison Closures
By Jeff Bossert
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says a report calling the state prison population the highest ever should be enough to end a call for closing two of them.
An Associated Press analysis showed there are 49,154 inmates in state facilities, at a time when Governor Pat Quinn has called for closing prisons in Dwight and Tamms. The John Howard Society says all state prisons are built for 34,000.
Illinois’ Department of Corrections argues the figure is about 100 inmates too high, but Rutherford says that matters little.
"Squabble over 100, but the fact of the matter is, we are abundantly overcrowded in prisons," he said. "And if it's not the highest in history, it's the highest in history down by two. It's a problem, and the governor's not cutting it to save the money. He wants to go spend it someplace else."
Rutherford suggests a 5-year strategic plan for facility assets, similar to what’s being done with Illinois’ Department of Transportation.
"So you just don't go out and build a road in 60 days, you think through where it needs to be - easements, engineering studies, environmental impact," he said. "Look under the (former Gov. George) Ryan administration - they closed the Sheridan Correctional Center in LaSalle County. It sat there idle for two years. But yet, it was eventually realized it could be used for a drug rehab operation. And I understand that it's a successful operation today."
Rutherford also suggests the inmate population might require setting up a geriatric center, allowing for new use of an aging facility like the maximum security wing at the Stateville Correctional Center.
The governor announced months ago that he sought to close the prisons in Dwight and Tamms, as well as several juvenile facilities, and adult transition centers, including the one in Decatur.
Quinn’s efforts have led to a court battle with the employees’ union, saying closures would put workers and communities in danger. An arbitrator this week had ruled in the union’s favor, ordering the state and AFSCME to continue bargaining for 30 days before any closures could start.