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Judge bars Quinn from closing Illinois prisons

SPRINGFIELD – Prison closures planned by Gov. Pat Quinn could “make the prisons that remain more dangerous,” a southern Illinois judge declared Tuesday in prohibiting shutdowns until the administration answers state workers’ concerns.

The temporary restraining order from Associate Circuit Judge Charles Cavaness in Alexander County also bars layoffs and inmate transfers from prisons in Tamms and Dwight, three halfway houses and juvenile detention centers in Joliet and Murphysboro.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sought intervention by Cavaness after an arbitrator ruled Friday that Quinn had violated the union contract by planning to shut most of the facilities by Aug. 31 without completing required bargaining.

Quinn’s administration filed an appeal Friday in Cook County to overturn the arbitrator’s ruling and a spokeswoman for the governor lamented Tuesday that “progress to make Illinois a better place ... continues to be halted.”

The closures are among prisons and juvenile centers, mental health and developmental disability centers that the Democratic governor says must be closed to save money in a budget crisis. But shuttering prisons stole the spotlight – particularly the underused but specialized and relatively new high-security lockup at Tamms – as the system already has 15,000 more inmates than it was designed to hold.

Cavaness said closures “have the potential to make the prisons that remain more dangerous for employees. ... Thus, there are genuine disputes between the parties regarding the interpretation of the contract.”

The arbitrator noted the state’s budget problems, however, and ordered the two sides to reach an agreement in 30 days.

AFSCME feared the administration might sidestep that order and proceed with closures, so it sought the court order to shut the door on that scenario.

The union said Cavaness also denied the state’s request to dismiss the case.

Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said officials are “examining options” both in Alexander and Cook counties. She repeated the administration’s contention that “half-full, outdated and expensive facilities” must close to save money and increase efficiency.

“It is disappointing that progress to make Illinois a better place and to put its financial house in order continues to be halted,” Kraft said.   

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