In the suit, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees alleges that the state’s plan to transfer an estimated 5,000 prisoners to other facilities puts corrections workers at risk of “injury or death” because the prison system is overcrowded and ill-equipped to deal with the influx of transfers.
“Inmates are being sent to prisons that are too crowded, too short of staff or lacking appropriate security features to safely incarcerate them,” AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said in a statement.
The union has asked for an injunction to stop the closures, which are set to begin at the end of the month. The suit was filed in far downstate Alexander County, home of the Tamms super-max prison, which is scheduled to be closed.
Quinn also has moved to close the Dwight Correctional Center for women in central Illinois and juvenile justice centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. Three transitional centers for inmates, including one on Chicago’s West Side, would also be closed.
The Democratic governor decided to move ahead with the closures despite lawmakers’ efforts to designate money in the budget to keep the facilities open.
The governor argues that many of the facilities he targeted are well below capacity, out-dated and too expensive to keep open.
He wants to use the money lawmakers set aside to avoid prison closures in part to help prop up the state’s troubled child welfare agency, which saw its budget slashed.
Under Illinois law, Quinn does not have to spend money lawmakers give him, but he must get legislators to sign-off on plans to shift around funds.
A Quinn spokeswoman defended the administration’s handling of the closures, saying they “are being implemented responsibly and in a way that prioritizes public safety and security.”
“These facilities are no longer affordable to the state of Illinois if we truly want to address the state’s budget challenges that have been created over decades of fiscal mismanagement,” spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.