SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close two adult prisons, two youth lock-ups and six halfway houses for soon-to-be-released inmates was met with mixed reviews Wednesday.
Labor union officials representing workers at the facilities panned the proposal as a "reckless" idea that could make the state's overcrowded adult prison system more dangerous.
But some advocacy groups praised parts of the decision, saying some of the state's correctional facilities should be shuttered.
The governor wants to close the state's lone super-maximum security prison in Tamms and the state's only maximum-security prison for women in Dwight. He also proposes to close youth prisons in Murphysboro and Joliet and shutter six adult transitional facilities, including those in Carbondale and Decatur.
Quinn aides put the total savings at about $83 million.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents more than 1,100 workers affected by the potential changes, said closing Tamms and Dwight could destabilize an already shaky prison system because of the unique roles each institution plays.
"The pattern of this administration's response to this dangerous overcrowding has been troubling," said AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall. "The plan seems convoluted and ill-conceived and could have reckless ripple effects."
John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, agreed that the overcrowding within the system raises red flags.
"These places are already dangerous," Maki said. "Without a reduction in population, I think this is ill con-ceived."
Maki said closing Dwight "makes no sense."
Under the plan, prisoners in Dwight would be moved to Logan Correctional Center. The currently all-female Lincoln Correctional Center would be switched to all-male. Prisoners at Tamms would be moved to the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center.
Closing Tamms, however, was hailed by a group that has been pushing to reform the facility since 2008.
The Tamms Year Ten coalition issued a statement saying the living conditions for the prisoners at the 14-year-old facility are deplorable.
"From the day it opened, Tamms was a financial boondoggle and a human rights catastrophe," said Laurie Jo Reynolds, lead organizer of the coalition. "The practice of long-term solitary confinement was shunned until the 1980s. Then Illinois fell for a foolish national trend and built a vengeful and wasteful prison we didn't need."
The governor's plan to close two youth prisons was met with cheers from juvenile justice advocates, who say the state should focus its efforts on programs like "Redeploy Illinois," which serves juvenile offenders in their home communities.
"It reflects really good news," said Betsy Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative. "The need to downsize is very critical."
Quinn would shutter the youth prisons in Murphysboro and Joliet. The facility in Jackson County has room for 156 youth, but currently houses only 53.
If the closures go through, Illinois would join a national trend. Eighteen other states have closed a total of 50 juvenile prisons over the past five years.
"I think it's a wise decision," said Maki.
Lindall, however, said Quinn's plan is just a recycled version of a proposal that failed last fall when the governor threatened to close Murphysboro. He said hearings about the closure showed it has widespread support.
Observers also questioned Quinn's plan to close six adult transition centers, which serve as halfway houses for low-level prisoners poised to be released. Quinn would instead send them home and monitor them with electronic ankle bracelets.
But, the governor is calling for cuts to the number of parole agents who would monitor the inmates.
"We have grave questions about the ability of parole agents to safely monitor an additional 1,000 parolees on release," Lindall said.
AFSCME officials were unsure Wednesday how they would fight the proposed closures.
"It's very early to know specifics," Lindall said.