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updated: 10/26/2012 9:07 PM

In change of position, Quinn to allow prison tours

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday appeared to be backing away from his position that visits by reporters to Illinois prisons constitute a security risk.

Illinois' Department of Corrections released a statement saying officials are working to schedule media tours of prisons.

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"Safety and security continues to be the department's top priority," department spokeswoman Stacey Solano said. "There has been increased interest in some Illinois prisons, and the department will manage guided tours to media representatives while taking into consideration the safety and security of our staff, inmates and visitors, as well as available resources and associated costs."

The Associated Press and other news media outlets have been denied tour requests as Quinn tries to close two prisons to save money despite historic overcrowding of the state's prisons. According to an AP analysis of state data, there are now more than 49,300 inmates held in prisons designed to hold 33,700.

Despite making assertions about security, the department allowed a group of 25 criminal justice students from Heartland Community College in Normal to tour the prison in Pontiac last week.

Democratic Sen. Gary Forby of Benton said he was glad the Quinn administration is changing its position on prison visits by the press. He said the public should know about everything state officials are doing. One of the prisons targeted by Quinn, Tamms Correctional Center, is in Forby's district.

He noted that the legislature passed a budget that included funding the institutions targeted for closing.

"The governor is trying to get out of our budget problems by laying people off," Forby said. "That is the wrong thing to do."

A southern Illinois judge is holding up the closure of the Tamms supermax prison, where gang leaders and extraordinarily violent inmates are housed, along with the women's prison in Dwight, three halfway houses and two juvenile detention centers. Alexander County Associate Judge Charles Cavaness earlier this month ordered Quinn to negotiate closure terms with a union representing prison workers.

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