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Article updated: 12/5/2012 5:32 PM

House allows state prison cuts to stand


SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn won a contentious legislative battle over prison closures -- along with ability to direct millions in state money toward child services -- on Wednesday.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, had proposed cutting $56 million from the state's budget and shutting down two prisons, two juvenile detention centers and three halfway houses, a plan a major union opposed and took to the courts.

It appeared lawmakers were also ready to reject the idea after the state senators voted last week to override Quinn's decision. An override in the House would have locked up the money, but House lawmakers skipped a vote and adjourned Wednesday, allowing the cuts to stand. House Speaker Mike Madigan didn't think calling a vote was a "necessary action to take," said his spokesman Steve Brown.

Quinn, whose approval rating has dipped in recent months, hailed the move as an important victory for taxpayers. He estimated the shutdowns -- including the high-security Tamms prison and the maximum-security Dwight women's lockup -- would save about $88 million a year.

"These closures will strengthen our long-term effort to cut state expenses and put Illinois on sound financial footing," he said in a statement.

Quinn has argued that Tamms and some juvenile detention centers are underutilized and that developmentally disabled residents in state institutions would fare better in community settings. He says that money can be moved to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to prevent layoffs of hundreds of child abuse investigators.

Still, the state facilities could remain open.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees got a preliminary injunction blocking some of the closures. The union has argued that moving inmates and workers from shuttered prisons to overcrowded facilities presents security risks.

"It's obviously a big disappointment, but most definitely not the end of this fight," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said of the House' decision. "We will work with lawmakers to find another way to restore needed funding for corrections and juvenile justice."

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