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In one of the more curious moves of his administration, Gov. Pat Quinn addressed budget problems within the horrendously overcrowded state prison system by ... closing two prisons.

At a time when space within the sprawling Illinois Department of Corrections was at a premium -- some inmates were living in bunk-filled gymnasiums -- the Democrat from Chicago pressed forward with his 2012 plan, saying it would save tens of millions of dollars.

Shuttered were the prisons in Dwight and Tamms. Inmates and workers were transferred to other facilities, while residents of the two communities were left with a daily barbed-wire reminder of how the actions of one man in power can affect the lives of thousands.

The aging former prison complex in Dwight, however, is not going completely unused.

Although the number of employees currently working there -- three -- pales in comparison to the 350 who once patrolled the grounds of the all-female lockup, you can't say the place is empty.

The 1,100 inmates who resided there have been replaced by about 2,200 metal filing cabinets filled with the case files of some 250,000 public aid recipients.

The files were moved into the gymnasium by the Illinois Department of Human Services to help make room in the agency's local offices.

Labeled by county and lined up wall to wall on a basketball floor, the four-drawer cabinets are a bracing sight, said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, who toured the nearly empty facility recently.

According to Human Services, the trio of employees are on hand to find files if they are needed back in the local offices.

Once retrieved, a file is scanned by the worker and sent to the recipient electronically.

Human Services spokesman Tom Green said the use of the prison as a warehouse was suggested by the state's main purchasing agency because it was free space.

"This is a much more efficient use of space at the local office and saves the state money in terms of lease costs," Green said.

Plus, said Barickman, it's not like the files are in danger of falling into the wrong hands.

"It would be hard to question whether they are secure," Barickman said.

Meantime, Corrections officials say they have no similar operation under way or planned at the now-empty Tamms Correctional Center, the state's former super-maximum security facility in deep Southern Illinois.

Other than storing some construction material within the prison, the place remains a ghost town.

FUNDRAISING TIDBITS: State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, has been named as the top dog at the Illinois House Republican Organization, which is the political arm of House Minority Leader Jim Durkin.

The top fundraising post is usually a signal that the next step up the ladder is a spot on the leader's leadership team.

Brown, who turns 29 on Thursday, said he unfortunately may not be able to attend Republican Day activities at the Illinois State Fair that day because he is on jury duty.

The House Republican campaign fund has $515,000 -- a figure that will have to grow if the GOP wants to make inroads in a General Assembly dominated by Democrats.

SMOKING ON CAMPUS: With thousands of students ready to descend on Illinois college campuses, look for Quinn to sign into law a ban on campus smoking sometime this week.

Given that it is election time, you can guess Quinn will travel to one of the state's institutions of higher learning to try and generate some buzz for himself.

Even though universities tried to convince lawmakers it was an issue that should be handled locally, lawmakers went ahead and approved the ban, which won't go into effect until July 1, 2015.

The only exemptions will be for people driving through campus or sitting in parked cars.

VERMIN PROBLEM: Reporters in the Capitol are used to dealing with shifty and unsavory characters.

Recently, however, even the most grizzled veterans were frazzled by the appearance of an unwanted visitor in the bathroom nearest to the basement press room.

And no, it wasn't one of our elected officials.

According to the janitorial crew that keeps the place tidy, there was a rat in the newly refurbished west wing water closet.|(217) 782-4043


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