SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn’s push to close the youth prison in Murphysboro took another step forward this week when the last group of inmates was moved out of the 15-year-old lock-up.
Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which operated the facility, confirmed the final transfers Wednesday, but could not provide further details.
Although built to hold more than 150 inmates, the facility has been home to just a handful of youthful offenders in recent months while the governor’s closure push was under way.
The move is part of an effort by the Chicago Democrat to shutter dozens of large and small state facilities in downstate Illinois to save an estimated $57 million. He wants to use the money to prop up other state programs that were facing cuts in the budget approved by lawmakers in May.
The now-empty facility — designated as a minimum-security youth prison — represents the first success Quinn has had in carrying out his controversial plan. Other facilities facing an end include the state’s “supermax” prison in Tamms, the all-female Dwight Correctional Center and facilities for developmentally disabled residents in Jacksonville and Centralia.
The apparent demise of IYC Murphysboro comes a day after an alliance of Republican and Democratic senators and representatives called on their colleagues to override the governor’s veto of money for the correctional facilities when lawmakers reconvene in November.
It remains unclear what might happen if the General Assembly overrides the governor’s decision. Quinn has argued that the population of juveniles in prison is dropping, allowing the state to close not only Murphysboro, but the maximum-security youth facility in Joliet.
Advocacy groups say the state should move away from incarceration of troubled youth and put the savings into other programs.
The youth center in Jackson County once employed as many as 135 employees. This week, the total staff count was down to 55.
Some of the workers were given the choice of relocating to other youth prisons, including the Harrisburg center 45 miles to the east. A crew of remaining workers was given the job of preparing the facility to be mothballed.