There's no harm in letting a few news reporters inside state prisons to see how they're being run.
Critics of Illinois' overcrowded prisons have raised legitimate questions about the conditions in some of them, and they deserve an answer.
That's why representatives of some news organizations have requested permission to take a look, particularly at the prisons in Vienna and Vandalia.
Unfortunately, Gov. Pat Quinn, who once talked about the need for openness in government, is flatly refusing to allow reporters in so they can see for themselves if there is any merit to the critics' complaints.
It's a sure bet that if things were A-OK, Quinn would be happy to let the public take a look. So his adamant refusal and the pathetic explanations he offers in defense of his decision pretty clearly demonstrate that there's a reason state prison officials don't want anyone looking over their shoulders.
In his defense, Quinn says Illinois prisons are not "country clubs." That goes without saying. They're obviously institutions designed to keep potentially dangerous inmates under control and away from the public.
Quinn's claim that the presence of reporters would constitute a security risk is equally invalid. Reporters have toured prisons in various places at various times for decades without incident.
Reporters don't expect to wander around unaccompanied. They just want to examine the physical surroundings and have a chance to talk to the guards and the prisoners. Properly handled, it's no big deal.
Quinn, however, is currently at war with state prison guards over his proposal to close two prisons. Inmates also are unhappy because of the crowding problems. Each group might have something negative to say and facts to back up their statements.
Finally, Quinn said the public will just have to trust his administrators to run the prisons properly. That's exactly the wrong thing to do.
No public official deserves or should be given carte blanche trust to do what he or she sees fit. State prisons are public institutions run by state employees paid by state tax revenues.
A little oversight is not just a good idea, but a necessity in a democratic society.