Letter: Illinois abandons Friday prison closings

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SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has officially abandoned his hope of shutting down prisons by the end of the week, according to a Corrections Department letter obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

In the letter dated Aug. 24, department Director S.A. "Tony" Godinez, instructs employees at prisons that are slated to close – including the supermax-security lockup at Tamms – to continue reporting to work after this Friday. Godinez calls the action a "temporary delay for the layoffs and closures" that were scheduled for Friday.

"All affected employees have been notified of the temporary delay and directed to continue to report for duty at their current work location," according to the letter, which was given to the AP by a former corrections employee.

Quinn wanted to empty Tamms in far southern Illinois and the women's prison at Dwight to save money, along with several halfway houses and youth detention centers at Murphysboro and Joliet. Lawmakers objected by including money in the budget to keep the facilities open, but the Democratic governor vetoed it.

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said Monday that the Senate will attempt to override that veto in the fall legislative session. That wouldn't force Quinn to keep the prisons open but would prevent him from using money legislators set aside for prisons on other state programs. Cullerton was speaking at a campaign event in southern Illinois for Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, a vocal opponent of shutting down prisons.

Godinez's letter was prompted by ongoing talks between Corrections and the union representing its workers. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees filed a lawsuit earlier this month, telling a judge in Alexander County, home to Tamms, that the Democratic governor's administration was required to negotiate the terms of the closures and inmate transfers – particularly the violent Tamms population.

The state voluntarily agreed to hold off on transfers and try to alleviate the union's safety concerns. Union spokesman Anders Lindall says arbitration hearings are scheduled daily this week.

The departure from the Aug. 31 closings deadline does not mean Corrections is throwing in the towel.

"The state remains committed to the closure plan, and is moving forward with an expedited arbitration with AFSCME to facilitate the closures," Godinez spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.

She did not say if the agency had set a new deadline for closures but said officials want to move "as quickly as possible" and "will implement the closures responsibly and in a way that prioritizes public safety."

Quinn aide Kelly Kraft said the Department of Juvenile Justice had not sent a similar letter to its employees regarding the youth detention centers. A spokeswoman for that agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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