Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to close two state facilities in Carbondale would cause job losses and delays in processing criminal evidence for the region, said Carbondale Mayor Joel Fritzler Thursday.
“Southern Illinois is suffering disproportionate job losses compared to other regions in the state,” he said.
In his budget address Wednesday, Quinn announced his proposal to close 14 major state facilities, including two in Carbondale — the Illinois Department of Corrections Adult Transition Facility on West Freeman Street and the Illinois State Police Forensics Lab on East College Street.
If Quinn’s budget is approved by the Illinois General Assembly, the Adult Transition Center would close in August with 17 staff layoffs. The facility’s 63 residents would be released from incarceration and would wear electronic ankle bracelets for 24-hour-a-day monitoring, according to the governor’s fiscal year 2013 budget fact sheet contained in an email from the Illinois Department of Corrections. The center’s inmates attend classes and volunteer in community activities as part of their reintegration program to civilian life following incarceration, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections website.
The Carbondale Forensics Lab also processes crime scene evidence for southern Illinois law enforcement agencies, according to the website. Under the plan, Carbondale and the Belleville crime labs, which perform similar functions, would consolidate all operations at the Belleville site and the 17 state employees at the Carbondale facility would have the opportunity to transfer to the Belleville facility.
Representatives from both facilities were contacted but said they were not able to comment. The transition facility deferred all comment to the Illinois Department of Corrections public information officer, Stacey Solano, who said she would forward questions to the governor’s press office, who did not respond. The forensics lab deferred all comments to the Illinois State Police public information officer, Monique Bond, who did not respond to a phone call or an email.
Thrity-four people are employed at the two facilities.
Carbondale Mayor Joel Fritzler said he thinks the governor’s proposed closures would adversely affect southern Illinois.
He said closing Carbondale’s crime lab, which serves all of southern Illinois, would cause delays in justice because of the aaditional time it would take to process evidence. Under the proposal, law enforcement officials would have to transport crime scene evidence to Belleville for processing.
Transporting evidence that distance would be costly for law enforcement agencies in Carbondale and Jackson County, he said.
Carbondale City Manager Kevin Baity said in an email the state has leased the building that houses the crime lab through late 2014. The city is completing heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades requested by the state as a condition of the lease. The cost of the renovation has been factored into the lease.
Closing the Adult Transition Center would also be a blow for the community, Fritzler said. The center’s staff members would be laid off and the city would lose some of its workforce at civic events, he said.
“The residents have been great volunteers at Main Street activities,” he said.
Fritzler said the proposed facility closures and job losses will also cause negative morale.
“It puts people on edge,” Fritzler said.
Councilmen Lee Fronabarger and Chris Wissman also expressed concern about the governor’s plan Thursday.
Councilman Lee Fronabarger said in an email he was particularly concerned about the potential loss of the forensics lab.
“Not having that service locally will mean not only job losses but also a great delay in test results for local law enforcement agencies here in southern Illinois. It will also add to the expenses of these agencies as they will have to travel to the Metro East area to access lab services,” Fronabarger said.
He said it seemed like all of the region’s legislators were against the closings because the area already lacks employment opportunities, but it was still very early in the budget process, so there could be changes to the plan.
Fronabarger said there will be more debate before any final action is taken.
Councilman Wissman said he thought the state’s financial problems were caused by a combination of regulatory failure at the federal level and the fiscal irresponsibility of the former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, and other elected officials in Springfield.
“Blagojevich threw the state right over the edge,” Wissman said.
He said he believed Carbondale and other similar-sized cities in Illinois are being penalized, in part, because of risky lending and mortgage practices that led to the 2008 financial crisis.
“Carbondale did not invent default swaps,” Wissman said, “Yet we have to pay the consequences.”
He said he thought the governor’s plan to balance the budget placed an unfair burden on southern Illinois’ taxpayers.
Wissman said he understood the state is in bad fiscal shape, but believes state legislators need to find ways to balance the budget that are fair. Carbondale and most other municipalities in Illinois operate within their financial means and the state should too, he said.
“At the end of the day, we are paying our bills,” Wissman said.
Other regional facilities that would close under the governor’s plan include the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro and the Tamms Correctional Center in Tamms, which employ 91 and 300 staff members, respectively.