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If you’ve been watching the debacle, otherwise known as Gov. Pat Quinn’s poorly considered decision to close state correctional facilities in Southern Illinois, the disturbing news on Tuesday’s front page probably wasn’t a complete shock.

Because an agreement between state and union officials has expired, 60 union employees of the state had no choice but to report for work Monday to the otherwise empty and unused Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro — which was the previous place of employment.

The specific agreement between the Department of Juvenile Justice and AFSCME had allowed the workers to be transported for duties at IYC Harrisburg. The agreement expired Sunday, however, and contract talks failed last Thursday. That led to employees returning Monday to IYC Murphysboro — which hasn’t housed a resident since Quinn’s closing decision took effect.

State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, took a dim view of this newest bad act in the drama surrounding the decision to close IYC Murphysboro, Tamms Correctional Center and other corrections facilities.

Bost accurately criticized the high cost of transporting Murphysboro employees to Harrisburg, saying it would make more sense to keep IYC Murphysboro open until there is a court ruling on the shut-down decision. We agree.

“They seem to think that now it is wiser and more cost efficient to just let the employees sit there doing nothing all day and leave it overcrowded and dangerous at other places,” Bost told The Southern Illinoisan. “They’re there guarding the paint on the walls.”

It’s not a permanent assignment, fortunately. The employees can pick one of three options that take effect today. They can either work the day shift in Harrisburg and be bused to work, work the same shift they had in Murphysboro and drive themselves to Harrisburg, or begin working at a job location they selected in the vacancy process.

Confused? You’re not alone.

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What’s really needed and still possible is a decision by Quinn to suspend the closing plans through the state’s current fiscal year, although legal wrangling over the matter may last even longer. Quinn then could announce the creation of a bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel tasked with examining state correctional facilities, capacities and needs for one-, three- and five-year periods and making recommendations on how to best use existing state facilities.

As the study progresses, money currently in the budget could sustain operations at IYC Murphysboro, Tamms and other facilities slated for closing. Overcrowding elsewhere would be eased by making full use of the facilities in Southern Illinois, which are relatively new and designed specifically for their most-recent and current usage.

Once a decision is made by the blue-ribbon panel, Quinn will have the benefit of a comprehensive, system-wide study compiled by leaders in government, private enterprise, juvenile justice, corrections and other stake-holding groups. It would build credibility for the resulting decisions and ensure proper consideration is given to sustaining operations and employment for the institutions in Southern Illinois.

We’re not asking for any special favors. All we want is a level playing field with rules understood by all the players. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Feedback: We want to hear what you have to say. Type your thoughts about our editorials by clicking on the “discussion” tab in the online version of this opinion at www.thesouthern.com/news/opinion/ If you want to see your comments in the newspaper, e-mail them directly to gary.metro@thesouthern.com along with your name, address and telephone number.

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