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Debate over Joliet youth prison closure turns to jobs

Local officials and employees of a youth prison in Joliet slated to close got their say at a legislative hearing Wednesday.

Illinois lawmakers on an oversight panel, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, will eventually weigh in on Gov. Pat Quinn's plans to close dozens of facilities. They're holding lots of hearings, and one on Wednesday was all about the prison in Joliet for juvenile offenders.

James Glasgow, the state’s attorney for Will County, testified it doesn't make sense to close the state's only maximum security facility for boys. Plus, Glasgow said, there're all those employees to consider.

“If you lay these people off, in my town, you will cause 275 unemployed people to be out there on the streets, potentially to lose their houses to this foreclosure crisis that we’re facing here, potential divorces – those social costs you have to factor in,” Glasgow told the lawmakers in Joliet.

Glasgow’s layoff number is about 50 more than the Quinn administration said works at the Joliet facility. One of the employees is the principal at the prison school, John Suarez.

“[The closure] would be catastrophic to the students. It would be catastrophic to the staff. It would be catastrophic to the Joliet area. Because just remember, when you're looking at those numbers of budgetary things, that's human capital. Those aren't just numbers,” Suarez testified.

Some of the affected employees could seek other vacancies in the Department of Juvenile Justice or the Department of Corrections. But with other proposed facility closures this year, a lot of state employees could be vying for relatively few openings.

Quinn administration officials said the driving factor for the youth prison closures is not necessarily cost savings. They said they want to close the Joliet facility – and another  in downstate Murphysboro – as part of an effort to right-size a system operating with way more beds than inmates.

That, the administration contends, would free up money to further a goal to treat juvenile offenders outside of prisons.

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