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February 22, 2012

Is it "grim news" when a state budget calls for prison closings?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this news story out of Illinois, which begins this way:

Gov. Pat Quinn prepared Tuesday to deliver an Illinois budget proposal stuffed with grim news including closing two prisons and 12 other state facilities, slashing Medicaid by $2.7 billion and cutting spending at most state agencies.

The facilities Quinn wants to close include the supermax prison at Tamms, a maximum-security prison for women at Dwight and six halfway houses for inmates nearing release, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the budget publicly.

I am not sure news can get much more "grim" for folks housed in a supermax prison, and thus I suspect anyone who cares about prisoners now at Tamms will see this prison-closing part of Gov. Quinn's budget proposal as great, not grim.  But the article goes on to explain some reasons why, in fact, the prisoners elsewhere already dealing with overcrowded facilities may agree with the description grim (and also why monies may be found to make the final story perhaps less grim):

Illinois prisons are severely overcrowded.  In November, 48,620 people were squeezed into space designed for 33,700. The Illinois Department of Corrections has begun counting areas such as gymnasiums when calculating the space available for housing inmates. Closing facilities would further complicate the situation.  The two prisons and six “adult transition centers” on Quinn’s list house 2,648 inmates.

Quinn’s other closures could be a repeat of last year, when he said several facilities need to be shut down because lawmakers hadn’t given him enough money to run them. They include a youth prison in Murphysboro and mental institutions in Rockford, Chester and Dixon.  Those closures were avoided when lawmakers approved additional money to keep those and other facilities open.

February 22, 2012 at 12:23 PM | Permalink


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"I suspect anyone who cares about prisoners now at Tamms will see this prison-closing part of Gov. Quinn's budget proposal as great, not grim."

The prisoners at the prisons to which they are transferred may see it differently.

"Guess what?" says the guard, "You're getting a new cellmate. He is being transferred from the now-closed supermax."

"Why was he in supermax?"

"For raping and eviscerating his previous cellmate."

Prisoners do not go to supermax for possession of Playboy.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Feb 22, 2012 4:51:55 PM

And this may increase pressure to release criminals, with predictable results. Quinn has already shown himself to be cool with releasing violent criminals. Too bad for those who run into those people on the streets.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 22, 2012 5:26:58 PM

There are enough non-violent inmates incarcerated in Illinois prisons to release without jeopardizing the public safety. As always, scare tactics are used to encourage tax payers to cough up a bit more cash for a government employees and their industry but heck, when is it going to be enough?

Posted by: beth | Feb 22, 2012 5:54:59 PM

Where are our civil libertarians when we need them to raise the roof about the cruelty and constitutional violations of housing your average home invasion specialist with some 300 pound guy fresh from Supermax who more-or-less resembles Hannibal Lecter?

Oh wait, I know. They're the same civil libertarians who oppose the DP when your basic, cheerful LWOP inmate slits the throat of a cellmate, guard, infirmary assistant, etc. Can't have that nasty DP, not then, not ever! Gotta keep 'em around to do it a third time! Or a fourth!! Whatever.

Well, yes, perhaps I am ill-advised to bug the civil libertarians about their silence. Maybe I should be grateful for it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 22, 2012 6:06:38 PM

Thank you for the predictable responses. Bill and Kent, have truly educated everyone.

Anyway, for the adults in the room, I think we should ask what the ideal percentage of incarceration is for a state. We all know that there is an "ideal" amount of money to spend on housing, and we have all concluded that even poor people should stay in school until about 18. Is 5% ideal? Does this amount vary by state. I know that Texas are not as well-behaved as New Englanders (which is they they need the death penalty to keep them in line), but I don't know if that justifies putting more of them in jail.

After we can agree on this ideal percentage, setting a corrections budge should be fairly easy.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 22, 2012 6:57:47 PM

Bill - I don't think all civil libertarians are against the DP. Libertarians generally do believe in personal responsibility and lots of other virtues that you espouse. In fact, most that I know could not be called bleeding hearts.

Posted by: beth | Feb 22, 2012 7:14:57 PM

Closing down 6 halfway houses for inmates nearing release will reduce the odds that the inmates will make a successful transition.

Closing down 3 mental institutions will mean the prison system will have to deal with the mentally ill. Just what you want, a marginal mentally ill person being taken advantage of by prison psychopaths.

What a recipe for failure and recidivism.

Posted by: ? | Feb 22, 2012 9:07:03 PM

beth --

I think people who self-identify as civil libertarians are more likely than the public at large to oppose the DP, but I have no polls to give you, since to my knowledge it hasn't been polled.

"Libertarians" are a different batch from "civil libertarians," although they can overlap. I agree that libertarians tend to be strong on personal responsibility (and correspondingly skeptical of broad-based state or social responsibility).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 22, 2012 9:08:52 PM


I am wondering (hoping) whether your comment is "tongue in cheek." The percentage of people incarcerated in a given jurisdiction should be based on a single criteria, the percentage of people in the jurisdiction that are criminals.

Your post reeks of central planning when supply and demand are called for.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 23, 2012 9:05:23 AM

I think it's clear that one of the State's primary responsibilities is incarcerating criminals. Equally important is taking care of the severely mentally ill, whom through no fault of their own, cannot take care of themselves. Additionally, incarceration should be tiered depending on the severity of the crime and the security risk of the inmate. That makes economic and retributive sense.

Posted by: Robert Barnhart | Feb 23, 2012 11:19:15 AM

its obviously "grim news" because it means that the voters who work in the prisons will lose their jobs.

don't you know that prisons primarily exist to provide jobs? ;)

erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Feb 23, 2012 11:24:35 AM

Sure Erika.

I am always amazed at how the same people who continuously complain about "big prison" are the same ones who support "big public education", "big fire dept.", or any other "big" public sector union that is three times as bolated, corrupt, and influential.

That is not to say that there is no prison lobby and that they have not had successes. However, they are much fewer and far between and modest than the other groups I have mentioned.

The indignation comes off as strained.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 23, 2012 11:41:10 AM

That was meant to read "bloated", not "bolated."

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 23, 2012 11:42:50 AM

Robert stated: "Additionally, incarceration should be tiered depending on the severity of the crime and the security risk of the inmate. That makes economic and retributive sense."

Fortunately, we already do this. The problem is that the "tiers" many on this blog want for the criminal consists of an apology from society for making him kill someone, easier access to kiddie porn for the pervs, and a blank check for all so-called "nonviolent" substance abusers (which is as rare as bigfoot) to collect government benefits and neglect their children.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 23, 2012 11:51:47 AM

I would like to see more voluntary "boot camp" type programs for first time offenders. In Ohio we have an intensive prison program that reduces your sentence upon successful completion. It is difficult, you have to be approved, and many people fail the 5 a.m. wake up calls and no tolerance policies. People who complete it have lower recidivism rates. I actually doubt the program causes low recidivism rates, but rather, reflects a self-selection process. However, it is still valuable because it efficiently sorts out people who need some time but maybe not as much as others.

In short, I would like higher security on the high end and lower security on the low end, if that makes sense.

Posted by: Robert Barnhart | Feb 23, 2012 12:41:38 PM

TarlsQtr --

You have to forgive Erika. She once said that there is no such thing as a truly false accusation of rape. And no, I am not making that up.

So it's no surprise that she now thinks that prisons exist primarily to provide jobs.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 23, 2012 10:39:33 PM


It is one of those amusing instances where we get to see liberals do all types of contortions because two of their own special interest groups are opposed.

For instance, the Keystone Pipeline (environmentalists vs. unions). In this case, they also love to coddle criminals, but not at the expense of feminists. Other exceptions include Republicans and the rich, who never get the benefit of unemployed and smelly protesters marching the streets to complain about the government abusing their "rights."

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 24, 2012 9:08:50 AM

yet more proof that conservatives just do not understand humor.

also more proof that conservatives just do not care about people who actually have to work for a living.

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Feb 24, 2012 9:17:28 AM

Actually, Erika, you have it wrong.

It is Republicans who actually LOVE people that work for a living. We care about the helpless, liberals only care about enabling the hopeless.

And, yes, I saw the wink in your second comment of the post. However, your first comment made it clear that you were at best, half-joking.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 24, 2012 1:56:47 PM

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