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The polarized debate over Illinois' youth prison closures

Advocacy groups are applauding Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's proposal this week to close two youth prisons. But strong opposition is coming from the union representing prison workers and some local leaders.

The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice has more than 1,700 beds, but about 700 of them are empty.

Advocates said it's high time Illinois "right sized" its youth prison system.

"I don't think DJJ could make a better decision in terms of the facilities that it chose to close," said John Maki with the prison watchdog John Howard Association.

One is in Joliet, the other in downstate Murphysboro, which Quinn also threatened to close last summer during budget negotiations.

Republican state Rep. Mike Bost represents the Murphysboro area. He questioned if it makes budget sense to close the fairly new facility, which only opened in 1997. Bost added that the jobs are vital to a struggling region.

"If it wasn't for [southern Illinois University] and facilities like this, there is no work here," Bost said.

The Quinn adminsitration estimtaes 91 layoffs would result from closing the Murphysboro facility, and 235 at Joliet. A few of the employees could transfer to vacancies at some of the half-dozen youth prisons slated to remain open.

The department said some of the money saved would go to hire more parole officers trained specifically to deal with kids.

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