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Former inmate urges keeping transition centers open

Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

CHICAGO – Convicted felon John Flood credits a state transition center with helping him get his life back on track after prison and testified Tuesday that Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close them would have a disastrous effect on inmates looking for a fresh start.

"They know how to do prison; they don't know how to do the world," said Flood. The 54-year-old spent nearly two years at Westside Adult Transition Center in Chicago after his theft sentence before landing a maintenance supervisor job.

He was among about a dozen – including state employees and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis – who spoke against the proposed closure Tuesday before a state commission.

Westside is one of six inmate halfway houses Quinn wants to close to save the cash-strapped state nearly $18 million. Shuttering the centers, along with two prisons and other cuts, would save taxpayers $112 million, state officials estimate. But critics say the plan leaves unanswered questions about public safety, oversight and the effect on Illinois' already overcrowded prisons. Tuesday's hearing, among the first on the centers, did not address those concerns in detail.

Only nonviolent offenders with a maximum of two years left on their sentence can qualify for residence at a transition center where they live in a highly supervised environment and receive education and help getting jobs. Under the closure plan, about 1,000 inmates qualifying for transition centers would instead be placed on electronic monitoring, state officials said.

Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador Godinez said he was concerned about recidivism, but electronic monitoring was a good alternative, especially with the savings. He estimated that it costs more than $60 a day to keep an inmate at a transition center compared with $5 a day for electronic detention. Correction officials also said many of the community-based programs and services would still be available to inmates, even if the centers closed.

However, employees, a union official and other prison experts said oversight of the electronic monitoring remained unclear, especially with proposed cutbacks to the department. An Associated Press analysis of administration budget documents last month showed a drop of about 150 positions in the parole division, a number that the Corrections Department has refused to confirm or refute. Officials have called it a reorganization of the parole division that would be able to handle any additional parolees added to the system.

Closing Westside would affect 189 inmates and involve 47 staff layoffs.

Flood said he had nowhere to go without Westside. Davis, a Democrat whose Chicago district includes Westside, said that cutting the centers would have an adverse effect.

"If you give someone help, you reduce recidivism," he said.

The proposed closures include Tamms Correctional Center, Dwight Correctional Center and transition centers in Chicago, Decatur, Aurora, Peoria and Carbondale.

The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which holds hearings on every proposed closure, will submit its recommendation to state legislators in the coming weeks.

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Sophia Tareen can be reached at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen

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