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Commission gives thumbs down on closing Tamms, Dwight

The Illinois Commission on Government and Forecasting Accountability on Tuesday rejected recommendations that two state prisons and other facilities be closed, a proposal that’s part of Gov. Pat Quinn’s effort to close the state’s looming budget gap.

The facilities the commission wants spared include: the Tamms supermax prison in far southern Illinois, Dwight Correctional Center in central Illinois, the West Side Adult Transition Center in Chicago, Peoria Adult Transition Center, the Illinois Adult Youth Center in Joliet and Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.

The bipartisan commission rejected all of the facilities targeted for closure by Quinn, with the exception of an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services office in Skokie. Closing Tamms and Dwight alone would save the state about $60 million but lay off 800 employees, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Lawmakers on the commission said closure of the facilities and layoffs could devastate communities where they are located. They also argued closures would exacerbate prison overcrowding.

Some lawmakers said the governor did not deliberate enough before he suggested closing the facilities.

“I cannot support the Tamms (closure), but the comprehensive plan needs to be in place that, when we make a change like this, a huge change that impacts the people’s lives, that it has to be done in the correct way,” Rep. Patricia Bellock, R-Westmont, said Tuesday in Springfield.

In all, some 1,100 state employees could be out of work if all of the targeted facilities are shuttered.

“We ought to have been looking at solutions how we keep these open, we ought to be looking at solutions of how we are going to pay for it,” said State Rep. Raymond Pope, a Republican from Springfield.

The commission’ votes are only recommendations and do not have to be followed by the governor.
Quinn said he respects the role of CoGFA.

“We have incorporated a great deal of their input into our facility closure plans; however, we must continue to deal with our budget challenges and make the difficult decisions necessary to restore fiscal stability to Illinois,” Quinn stated in a written statement.  “We will continue to work with legislators on CoGFA and the rest of the General Assembly as this process moves forward.”

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, who represents the Tamms community, sees the commission’s stance as a victory.

“I’ve been saying all along that we built Tamms for a reason and that it should stay open,” Forby said. “It protects guards and cuts down on violence in Illinois’ other prisons. It puts hundreds of people to work in a county with a 12 percent unemployment rate. I’m glad the commission voted our way.”

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