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Gov. Quinn finalizes plans to close two Downstate prisons

Go. PQuinn. File photo.  | John H. White~Sun-Times

Go. Pat Quinn. File photo. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 21, 2012 6:33AM

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn made a “final” determination Tuesday to close state prisons in Downstate Tamms and Dwight despite being given a state budget that contained enough funding to keep those facilities open.

Sticking largely to a budget-cutting closure plan he laid out in March , Quinn also finalized plans to shutter a juvenile detention center in Joliet and the Westside halfway house in Chicago, along with other facilities Downstate.

“The governor’s decision to close several facilities was made after careful consideration and extensive deliberation with the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice,” said Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for the governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

“While we have heard many voices … the fact remains that the state can no longer afford these facilities if we truly want to address the state’s budget challenges that have been created over decades of fiscal mismanagement,” she said in a prepared statement.

The decision to close Tamms will bring to an end the state’s nearly decade-and-a-half dalliance with its “supermax” prison that opened under former Gov. Jim Edgar’s administration.

That prison is where Illinois’ most violent inmates are housed but has drawn wrath from human-rights advocates because of its harsh isolation policies.

Dwight, meanwhile, houses female inmates.

The planned closures of both facilities that together house 1,400 inmates who will be disbursed to other prisons will be Aug. 31, according to a memo that was distributed to state employees Tuesday.

Closure of the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet will occur Oct. 31, the memo said.

Quinn’s moves drew criticism from lawmakers and a potential 2014 gubernatorial rival, Republican state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

“I do not agree with Gov. Quinn’s apparent final decision to close seven state correctional facilities and youth centers in the near future,” Rutherford said in a prepared statement.

“Closing prisons will only exacerbate the overcrowding we face in Illinois with our prison population. Overcrowded prisons pose a real danger to employees and local communities,” he said.

And state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), whose district includes Tamms and two other facilities the governor intends to mothball, lashed out at Quinn.

“I am disappointed and shocked by the governor’s out-of-touch efforts to close the Tamms Correctional Center, one of the few facilities in the state that deal with the most disruptive, violent and problematic offenders,” Phelps said.

“This proposed decision will put 300 Southern Illinoisans in the unemployment line,” he said.

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