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Ill. agrees to stop prison transfers temporarily

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn defended a criminal investigation into leaks at Tamms prison on Wednesday, the same day his Corrections Department agreed to temporarily halt transferring inmates until the workers' union has a say.

The Democratic governor told reporters in Chicago that it's appropriate for the Illinois State Police to investigate leaks after attempting to interview at least six Tamms employees Tuesday. One employee told The Associated Press that investigators said they were assessing improper distribution of private health care information.

A spokeswoman said Tuesday that Quinn did not order the investigation. His office did not respond Wednesday when asked whether Corrections or state police officials informed him of it.

Quinn suggested he has a duty to stand behind state law safeguarding public safety.

"If we have rules, regulations and laws that must be enforced, that's the number one job of the governor, to make sure those laws are enforced," Quinn said.

Quinn dismissed a question about whether the police visit was intended to harass or intimidate, reasons one employee who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation filed a complaint over the matter after refusing to answer questions without an attorney.

Corrections officials have been concerned about leaks regarding the placement of Tamms inmates when it closes Aug. 31 because Quinn believes it's underused and too expensive. Opponents also say Tamms' long-term isolation damages inmates' mental health.

Confidential information obtained by the media focuses on the dangerous and volatile inmates at Tamms, a high-security lockup housing violent men and gang leaders, and where they'll be moved.

A lawsuit filed by the workers' union – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – asked Alexander County Judge Charles Cavaness to order Corrections to stop inmate transfers until the union, which opposes the closures, is certain it can be done safely.

According to records reviewed by the AP, 29 former Tamms residents – including a serial sex offender who repeatedly raped a prison employee, a kidnapper who later killed a cellmate, and several gang leaders – were just transferred last Thursday and Friday.

The state and union agreed to meet an arbitrator Tuesday over AFSCME's concerns about the speed and appropriate safety precautions related to the relocations. Cavaness will check the status of those talks Aug. 17 and determine if additional action is necessary.

"We are very pleased that the Quinn administration's reckless reshuffling of inmates around the state has been halted," AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer said in a statement. "Conditions are already volatile and dangerous in the prison system, which is jammed."

There are about 48,000 inmates statewide housed in space designed for 33,000. The judge's decision applies to seven facilities Quinn wants mothballed — Tamms and the Dwight women's facility; halfway houses in Carbondale, Chicago and Decatur; and Department of Juvenile Justice youth centers in Joliet and Murphysboro.

Quinn remains committed to his closure plans, spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said Wednesday.

"We offered to properly hear AFSCME's grievances on an expedited basis," she said.

The AP reported Wednesday that three state police investigators and one from Corrections visited Tamms on Tuesday seeking at least half-dozen employee interviews. A counselor whom investigators summoned and later spoke to the AP filed a complaint, charging the atmosphere was one of harassment and intimidation.

Quinn responded that people who release confidential state information "and think they can do it with impunity are just plain wrong. We are going to make sure we enforce the law fairly, consistently but on behalf of public safety and the law."

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Contact John O'Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor

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Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.

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