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Article updated: 11/16/2012 9:27 PM

Governor will appeal decision on prison closures

By

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close prisons remains in limbo after a state appeals court this week denied his administration's request to dissolve a temporary restraining order and injunction that prevent him from carrying out the closures. The governor's office said it would immediately appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

The Fifth District Appellate Court entered its order on Wednesday, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees received it on Friday.

Quinn wants to close the high-security Tamms prison, the maximum-security women's lockup in Dwight, three halfway houses and two juvenile detention centers as part of an effort to fix the state's budget.

An Alexander County judge issued the restraining order in September after AFSCME filed grievances claiming the state had begun moving inmates in violation of a contractual commitment to bargain over the impact of the closures. The union also claimed transferring inmates to other prisons threatened workers' health and safety because of overcrowding and other issues.

An arbitrator since has ruled in the state's favor, saying the safety issues don't pose a "clear and present danger," prompting the state to try to get the restraining order dissolved.

"Forcing the state to staff empty or half-empty prisons and juvenile facilities -- facilities which are no longer needed -- is costing Illinois taxpayers $7 million a month," Assistant Budget Director Abdon Pallasch said in a written statement Friday. He said the governor's office already has a pending petition for the high court to take the case.

But the union believes that the arbitrator's decision was made in error because neither the contract nor state law requires a "clear and present danger" for the union to win an arbitration ruling, AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. The union is asking Alexander County Associate Circuit Judge Charles Cavaness to vacate the arbitrator's decision and send it back for reconsideration while keeping the injunction in place.

"The union is gratified to receive appellate court ruling," Lindall said. "Given the terrible overcrowding in the state prison system, closing any facility will make the whole system more volatile and dangerous."

A hearing on AFSCME's request is scheduled for Dec. 5.

The state also has asked a judge in Cook County to confirm the arbitrator's finding and allow it to proceed with the closures. The union has filed a motion to have that case dismissed or transferred to Alexander County.

The Democratic governor said the state cannot afford to keep running Tamms, Dwight, inmate transition centers in Decatur, Carbondale and Chicago, or juvenile detention facilities in Murphysboro and Joliet. His aides have repeatedly used "half-empty" in referring to Tamms, a segregation prison for violent inmates, a status the administration has in part created by halting inmate transfers there.

Murphysboro is empty because the state transferred all its residents during the summer.

Other facilities are packed. Overall, there are more than 49,300 inmates in a system designed for 33,700.

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