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Panel: Quinn violating law with construction

Published: Friday, March 30, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

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SPRINGFIELD – The remodeling of a juvenile detention center in northeast Illinois violates a state law that governs state facility closures, so Gov. Pat Quinn should delay the project, according to a legislative oversight panel.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice contends the work at the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles was scheduled before Quinn announced he wanted to close other detention centers.

But emails obtained by a workers’ union, which is fighting the closings, indicate the construction was sped up so the facility could accommodate 132 residents from a Joliet juvenile center set for closure, the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability said.

The commission said that violates a state law that prohibits taking “action” on shuttering a facility until 50 days after the governor files closure paperwork. Under that law, necessary work in St. Charles cannot begin until May 5, commissioners wrote this week in a letter that “strongly urges” halting construction.

“Even though improvements to IYC-St. Charles were long-standing requests, the work was directly initiated at this time due to the planned closure of IYC-Joliet,” the letter reads. “The commission is disappointed in the department’s apparent disregard of the State Facility Closure Act.”

Juvenile Justice spokesman Kendall Marlowe said the work at St. Charles began last summer and creating more maximum-security space is planned regardless of Joliet’s future.

“We concede that expediting this gives us greater operational flexibility, and that includes more flexibility should the IYC-Joliet closure go through,” Marlowe said Thursday. “This is not implementation of any closure of Joliet.”

Quinn announced in February that he wanted to close two youth detention centers – in Murphysboro as well as Joliet – eight prison facilities and four human services centers as part of his budget plan to save money. The administration filed Joliet closure paperwork March 16 with the commission, which can vote to oppose the shutdown, but its opinion is only advisory.

The letter said internal department emails specifically mention Joliet’s closing. A memo dated March 7 requests permission from the Capital Development Board to skip contract-bidding because of emergency construction needs. To justify the short-cut, the agency notes the intent to close the Joliet center by July 31, requiring St. Charles remodeling to be done by July 1, when 132 Joliet residents would start moving.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents youth center workers and opposes the closures, obtained the emails through the Freedom of Information Act.

Marlowe could not immediately say Thursday how the justice agency would respond.

Dan Long, executive director of the legislative commission, said he talked to Quinn’s lawyer and expects a response that includes backing off the work that would make housing units more secure for residents such as those currently housed at Joliet. General projects such as roof repair and asbestos removal could continue.

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