Illinois judge temporarily blocks state from closing prison

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Johnson County Judge James R. Williamson has temporarily barred the state from closing the Vienna Correctional Center in far southern Illinois.

The restraining order, handed down Tuesday afternoon in Vienna, bars the state from moving inmates from the facility or laying off employees "until further order from the court."

The order came as part of a lawsuit filed by a union of prison employees that claimed Gov. George Ryan lacks the authority to close the prison since the General Assembly funded its operation through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The closing, which was slated for May 15, would leave some 350 people out of work in one of the poorest parts of the state.

A spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said Tuesday's order will buy the group time to persuade lawmakers to fund the prison beyond the current fiscal year.

"We're happy today, but we're realistic," said Buddy Maupin, AFSCME's regional director for southern Illinois. "This doesn't keep Vienna open, but it buys us time to get appropriation from the Legislature to keep it open."

The Department of Corrections will continue to plan to move the inmates out ahead of a May 15 closing, department spokesman Sergio Molina said.

He also said he was "unaware of anything that compels" the department to spend the money that the Legislature appropriated to run the prison this year.

Both parties will return to court for a hearing May 3.

Ryan announced in February plans to close the minimum-security prison, located near the Shawnee National Forest in the southern tip of the state, to help solve a state budget crunch.

He announced similar plans for Valley View juvenile detention center in St. Charles and Zeller Mental Health Center in Peoria.

AFSCME also sought a temporary restraining order to forestall the Valley View closure, but a Cook County judge denied the union's motion Tuesday.

The Illinois House, led by its Democratic majority, earlier this month approved a budget plan that would reverse the planned closures, but lawmakers didn't say how they would fill the state's growing deficit.

Illinois has about $1 billion in overdue bills in the current fiscal year and expects a $1.2 billion deficit next year.

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