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The Associated Press September 28, 2011, 4:10PM ET

Report: Planned prison closure could spur crowding

Gov. Pat Quinn's plans to shutter a central Illinois prison means 1,500 inmates would be housed in prison gyms at 11 other lockups across the state, forcing those sites to bulk up staffing under the "evident possibility" of crowding-related lawsuits, the Illinois Department of Corrections says.

Such potential fallout of closing the medium-security Logan Correctional Center near Lincoln, as detailed in the department's required report to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, drew immediate rebukes from the union representing most of the state's prison workers.

"I've read closure documents before, but none so outrageous and irresponsible as the Logan prison plan," Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the (Springfield) State Journal-Register.

Calling the shuffling of inmates "irresponsible," Lindall said the closure plan makes no mention of its impact on the safety of corrections workers or prisoners.

Quinn has said budget cuts by lawmakers left him little choice in seeking to close Logan and six other state institutions. But the Corrections Department said in its recent filing that it "is prepared to face the challenges of providing mandated services in a less-than-ideal situation," noting that "an increased risk of legal exposure is an evident possibility."

"To assist in confronting these challenges, IDOC will be required to increase employee headcount at the facilities that will receive the additional inmate population," the filing read.

Quinn's plans also include closing the state's maximum-security mental health center in Chester, the site southeast of St. Louis that houses criminal defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity or mentally unfit for trial.

The Belleville News-Democrat, citing a report newly prepared by the state's Department of Human Services, says closure of that center near the state's maximum-security Menard Correctional Center would affect about 600 jobs and $45 million annually in the region's economic activity.

Would-be patients at that site would be sent to mental-health centers in Alton, Springfield, Elgin and Chicago, with many of them requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars in security upgrades to accommodate the demand.

With 356 workers, the 1,980-inmate Logan lockup is among the area's biggest employers. All of those employees would be offered jobs elsewhere in the department, which the filing estimates will have 192 positions open at other sites within 90 minutes of Logan. About 160 of Logan's workers may have to move from the region for such a position, the Corrections Department said.

"With gas prices, a 90-minutes commute will encourage folks to relocate permanently," Lincoln Mayor Keith Snyder said. "For Lincoln, those jobs will be lost."

Sen. Larry Bomke, a Springfield Republican, said he does not believe the employees will be offered other jobs and questions where the savings will come.

"The largest cost of any entity is employees," he said. "If their intent is to save money, it has to be through the layoff of employees. I don't see where they will save money."

As many as 180 Logan inmates would be transferred to southern Illinois' Tamms Correctional Center, the state's only supermax lockup. Some 300 to 350 inmates would be moved to health care and segregation units at other Illinois prisons, using up nearly all of the state's beds at those sites.

"Given IDOC's current bedspace challenges, approximately 1,500 minimum security inmates will likely be required to be housed in gymnasiums" at other prisons that include ones in Taylorville, Jacksonville and Mt. Sterling, the Corrections Department filing said.

Sharyn Elman, a corrections spokeswoman, said only Logan inmates are being considered for transfer now.

The John Howard Association, a prison oversight group, said on its web site that that unless the state pares its inmate population, "closing Logan will likely exacerbate DOC's overcrowded condition, jeopardize the safety of inmates and staff and ultimately cost taxpayers more money."

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