CHICAGO
09/28/2011 02:51 pm ET | Updated Nov 28, 2011

Illinois Prison Overcrowding: Closure Of Prison Could Force State To House Inmates In Gymnasiums

Earlier this month, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced that he would be forced to layoff thousands of state workers and close several facilities due to lack of funding. Now, the employees and communities impacted by the impending closures are worried about what will happen to the people living in the closing mental health and jail facilities.

Prison overcrowding is already a major issue in Illinois. According 2010 data from the Illinois Department of Corrections, 25 of the 28 state prisons are over capacity. The system currently contains about 50 percent more prisoners than facilities were designed to hold. When Quinn's cuts were announced, the state's prison population was 49,105--almost an all-time high.

Still, Quinn put the Logan Correctional Center on the chopping block. The facility holds about 1,980 prisoners and is located in downstate Lincoln. While the state's plan will allow some prison workers to be transferred and keep their jobs, the plan for where to put the nearly 2,000 prisoners shocked the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees. The GateHouse News Service reports:

The move will use up nearly all of the state’s beds in health and segregation units, the department said.

Another 130 to 180 inmates will be “housed in available beds” at the super-max prison in Tamms.

“Given IDOC’s current bedspace challenges, approximately 1,500 minimum security inmates will likely be required to be housed in gymnasiums” at 11 other prisons, including in Taylorville, Jacksonville and Mt. Sterling, Corrections said.

Yep, gymnasiums.

“This shuffling of inmates throughout the system is irresponsible,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall told the GateHouse News Service. “The plan makes no mention of repercussions to the safety of staff or inmates. For the department to seriously propose to house 1,500 inmates in 11 prison gymnasiums is so irresponsible as to strain credulity. The state itself admits that its plan exposes DOC to the threat of a lawsuit.”

Putting inmates in a gym is not ideal, but either are the conditions at a Taylorville prison--where inmates have been forced to wear the same pair of underwear for multiple days in a row due to budget constraints.

Logan Mayor Keith Snyder told Illinois Statehouse News the closure would result in 460 total jobs lost, and $73 million in total economic losses to the community.

Randy Hellmann, who works at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center, told the Statehouse News he was a guard when Illinois tried housing inmates in gym floors in the 1980s.

"I can't tell you the numerous fights, inmate assaults, and staff injuries when this did take place," Hellmann said.

Quinn's plan would also close the Tinley Park Mental Health Center in Tinley Park, the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford, the Chester Mental Health Center in Chester, the Jacksonville Developmental Center in Jacksonville, the Jack Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon and the IYC Murphysboro in Murphysboro. Unions, mental health advocates and state Republican leaders have all slammed the governor's handling of the situation.

State Senator and former gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) described Quinn's planned layoffs as "a political document" in a conversation with WJBC and conjectured that many of the facility closures would more heavily impact Republican-dominated areas in the state. Lawmakers also rejected his claim that state Republicans are to blame for failing to appropriate the funds to keep these facilities open.

"I wish I could say that I expect more from our governor, but unfortunately this seems to have become his typical repertoire," State Rep. Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) told the Northern Star. "This type of leadership only causes public chaos and takes away from the real discussions we should be having that are needed to get our fiscal house in order and create jobs."

In all, the budget fight with lawmakers will cost Illinois 2,660 jobs and nearly $300 million in lost economic activity, Illinois Statehouse News reports.

Quinn said the closures will save the state $313 million, and said lawmakers gave him a budget that was $2.2 billion less than he requested.