“Final decision”: IYC-Joliet will close
By Bob Okon email@example.com June 20, 2012 1:48PM
The Illinois Youth Center in Joliet, Ill. | File photo
Updated: July 23, 2012 7:19AM
JOLIET — A final decision has been made to close Illinois Youth Center-Joliet and six other state prison facilities, a spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday.
The closing will mean the loss of 230 jobs in Joliet, although employment will be available elsewhere for all the workers affected by the closings, according to the spokeswoman. The state also will close Dwight Correctional Center, whose workforce of 350 includes employees who live in Will and Grundy counties.
Nevertheless, local legislators still plan to do what they can to keep IYC-Joliet open, arguing that lawmakers included funding for the facility in the state budget sent to the governor.
“The General Assembly passed a budget that was balanced,” said state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. “We found hard dollars to do that.”
‘Going to try’
But Walsh acknowledged that the governor has the authority to close IYC-Joliet, and there is little that legislators can do other than try to persuade him not to.
“I’m going to try,” he said. “I’m not giving up yet. We’ve got until Oct. 31.”
The closing date for IYC-Joliet was pushed back to Oct. 31. It originally was set to close July 31. The closing date for Dwight and other prison facilities remains Aug. 31.
Walsh said that he had hoped Quinn would keep IYC-Joliet open once the Legislature approved a balanced budget that included funding for the facility.
A spokeswoman for the governor, however, said the Legislature’s budget was short in other areas while funding the facilities that had been slated for closing.
“When the money was put back in the budget, other issues were ignored,” said Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s budget spokeswoman.
The budget sent to the governor only funds state employee health insurance for six months of the year, Kraft said. Funding for state aid also came up short, she said.
Meanwhile, Kraft said, the budget from the Legislature does not address the growing impact of state pension costs. Pension and Medicaid costs, she said, eat up 39 percent of the state’s general revenues leaving fewer dollars for other services.
“The fact remains that the state can no longer afford these facilities if we truly want to address the budget challenges that have been created over decades of mismanagement,” she said.
She pointed to Illinois Youth Center-Murphysboro, another facility that would be saved in the Legislature’s budget. But Kraft said only 15 youths now are housed at Murphysboro, and the facility is built for a capacity of 256.
Kraft said the population of youth offenders is declining while the state moves away from incarceration to community-based treatment of juvenile criminals.
“So there is no need to have all these facilities, especially when it comes to our youth population,” she said.
Kraft said employees at IYC-Joliet, Dwight and other facilities may keep their jobs if they are willing to relocate to other state youth centers and prisons. She said the high attrition rate in those jobs means there will be openings for everyone laid off from a closed facility.
IYC-Joliet is the only youth center for male offenders listed as a maximum-security facility by the Department of Juvenile Justice. State officials have said that youths there could be transferred to other centers that have maximum-security quarters. But IYC-Joliet employees have based a campaign in support of the center largely on the argument that it is the only facility equipped to handle juveniles who have committed murders and other heinous crimes.
Both Walsh and state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said their campaign to save IYC-Joliet will include an attempt to get Quinn to visit the facility.
McGuire said Quinn has not been to IYC-Joliet since proposing its closure in February. The governor also did not attend a hearing held by a legislative panel that ultimately ruled in favor of keeping IYC-Joliet open.
“I think he (Quinn) needs to become more involved in such momentous decisions,” McGuire said.
McGuire also acknowledged that legislators cannot stop Quinn from closing IYC-Joliet. But, he said, “We can appeal to his good sense and his commitment, which I believe he has, to do the best for the people of the state of Illinois.”