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Proposal would help stop game playing with prisons

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Its time to stop the prison-closure madness. A proposal by state legislators will hopefully do just that.

Four years after he proposed the closure of Vandalia Correctional Center and the states youth facility in St. Charles, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is once again threatening the closure of a state prison. How are his actions in 2004 similar to those this summer each has been about politics.

In 2004, the Illinois Department of Corrections put forth information that they said supported the governors decision to close VCC. The closure of Pontiac Correctional Center was also mentioned four years ago.

The governor recently talked about shuttering Stateville Correctional Center. Then, after a weekend shift (and after legislators voted on a measure that would have provided for the recall of the governor), the proposed closure of Pontiac CC was again presented.

Legislators from both parties are calling for the governor, by executive order, to implement a prison closure moratorium and establish a long-range plan for the IDOC.

Establishing a long-range plan for the agency, which includes taking an in-depth look at all state facilities and laying out how they can best be used in future years, only makes sense. A moratorium on prison closures would allow for a cease-fire on proposed closures until some kind of plan can be devised.

These actions would team up nicely with the Facilities Closure Act that was approved by legislators after the governors unsuccessful attempt to close VCC.

That act allows for public hearings and community input before any prison is shut down. The executive order requested by a group of legislators mandates that a panel consisting of legislators, correctional employees, the IDOC director and organizations with expertise in corrections sit down to assess the agency and each of its facilities.

Its been four years, but we remember all too well what our community went through after the governor called for the closure of VCC. Vandalia and other communities that host state prisons should no longer be pawns in political games.

Its only good business sense that the IDOC take a good, hard look at every one of its facilities and that they not talk about closing facilities without having realistic facts to support such closures. The request for an executive order would help to ensure that.

rb