Our View: Gov. Pat Quinn can save face and look heroic by merely following the John Howard Association's recommendation to repurpose IYC Murphysboro.
These are trying times across Southern Illinois. Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in Murphysboro and Chester, where the cities are fighting to keep two of their bigger facilities and employers open.
Chester Mental Health Center and Illinois Youth Center Murphysboro have both been put on the chopping block by Gov. Pat Quinn. He has announced plans to shut down seven facilities statewide, including the two listed above and located in our backyard.
IYC Murphysboro's possible closure is the most pressing issue; it was reported late in the week that Quinn planned to send out pink slips soon.
In the short term, the answer is simple: Quinn needs to stop using people's livelihoods as a bargaining chip, needs to stop attempting to hold lawmakers hostage, needs to put a stop to his short-sighted plan and needs to focus on preserving jobs in hard-hit Southern Illinois.
Despite the bleak near-term forecast facing IYC Murphysboro, there may be a solution that Quinn could embrace. He would save face and we'd keep the needed jobs.
A report issued last week by the John Howard Association, a statewide prison watchdog organization, said major reforms should take place in Illinois' youth prison system. Too many youths are being put into corrections centers, the group contends, and those facilities are understaffed and don't have effective programs. According to the group's report, more than two-thirds of those put in youth prisons are non-violent offenders who shouldn't necessarily be put in such facilities.
For that reason, among others, the association has said several times the state should consider turning IYC Murphysboro into an adult prison, under the watch of the Department of Corrections.
IYC Murphysboro has about 59 inmates right now, although the facility can hole more than 150. Based on spacing issues alone, Quinn could claim he has a valid argument to close the facility.
However, the issue is more complex than that. While the youth prison system more beds than inmates, the adult corrections system faces the opposite issue. With severe overcrowding in state prisons, those extra 150 beds could be put to good use.
Also, Murphysboro's facility is among the newest in the juvenile justice system. If a facility has to close, why should it be one of the newest, instead of an older one that will require more money to maintain over the next several years? Doesn't it make sense to use the newest, nicest facilities a state has, and make sure they're utilized to the fullest extent?
Sadly enough, the plan to transfer control of the Murphysboro facility to the Department of Corrections doesn't have much steam behind it, state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said in a conference call earlier this week.
"I think that's very iffy. And, even if it happens, how fast would it be? I think we all suspect it wouldn't happen very quickly," Luechtefeld said. "What do the people who work at Murphysboro do in the meantime?"
That's where the governor needs to step in, embrace the wisdom of the respected Howard Association and provide real gubernatorial leadership. It's such a good idea it's surprising Carbondale native Sheila Simon, our lieutenant governor, hasn't successfully urged Quinn to reconsider the IYC closure plan.
Transferring IYC Murphysboro to the Department of Corrections and turning it into an adult facility makes sense. It solves two problems at once - overcrowded adult prisons and too many empty beds in the youth corrections system - in a state that has too much trouble solving even one problem.
By canceling Murphysboro's closure and announcing a new plan to repurpose the facility, Quinn can prove he's serious when he says he's the jobs governor. He can keep jobs active in an area that sorely needs them, and provide a long-term solution for a relatively new building, ensuring there will be plenty of jobs in this Murphysboro facility for years to come.
It's time for a new plan, governor. It's time to revamp a juvenile justice system that has its fair share of problems and save our region from crippling layoffs at the same time.
You've been urging lawmakers to do the right thing and give you the wiggle room you desire in the budget. But the right thing to do isn't to hold lawmakers hostage by dangling people's jobs in front of them. The right thing to do is to leave no stone unturned when it comes to keeping those jobs, and this DOC plan is a perfect, practical way to do just that.
Do the right thing, governor.
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