SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate overrode Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of $56 million to fund the operations of state prisons and other facilities, but that doesn't mean they'll stay open.
First, the legislation also must be approved by the House by the end of the legislative session in early January. Even if it is, Quinn could ignore it and continue his efforts to close a women's prison at Dwight and the state's highest security prison at Tamms, as well as a youth correctional center in Murphysboro and halfway houses.
The governor enacted the vetoes in order to cut some spending and move funds to other government programs, including ballooning pension obligations.
In his veto message last June, Quinn argued that the cost of operating Tamms "is $62,000 per inmate per fiscal year, about three times the statewide cost for other facilities within the Department of Corrections. This cost can simply no longer be afforded."
Of Dwight, he said, it "is in need of substantial repairs and can no longer be operated efficiently. The Department of Corrections has also seen a 41 percent decrease in the number of female admissions, reducing the department's need to maintain existing female capacity."
But the effort to override Quinn's reduction veto of SB 2474 was strong and bipartisan. It got 35 votes, including all four area state senators.
"I've always felt confident that Dwight would never close but the governor has amazed me in his persistence to do something that doesn't make any sense," said Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, whose district includes the prison there. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens. The General Assembly has twice now provided the money, and the main reason is that the prison system is overcrowded. It doesn't matter if it's Dwight or what it is, the prison system is way overcrowded and it doesn't make sense to close any prison."
Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said that a prison system built to accommodate about 33,000 prisoners is housing some 49,000.
"If you close these places, where are you going to put these people anyway?" he asked.
Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, was among six downstate Democrats to vote to override Quinn's veto.
"I've talked to a lot of my constituents who work at Danville (prison) and they're very fearful of what the overcrowding of our prisons is going to do to safety of the inmates and to our state employees," he said. "I think we need to send a strong message that we need to look at other ways to balance our budget."