Commission Director Weighs In On IYC and Mental Health Center

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By Fanna Haile-Selassie
By Andy Shofstall

CARBONDALE - The Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro and the Chester Mental Health Center are targeted for closure by the state.The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability held hearings in both communities Wednesday. Now, the group will make a recommendation to the governor, and its director is already hinting at what that recommendation might be.

He said the hearings were extremely useful to the Commission, including the tour of the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro. The commission members will take this time to gather their thoughts before coming up with a recommendation. The director says the Chester Mental Health Center has the safer bet of getting a positive one.

From lawmakers to city leaders and employees, much of the testimony was the same in front of this state commission: do not close the Illinois Youth Center or the Chester Mental Health Facility.

Now, the director of that commission has a few words of his own to say.

"I hate to predetermine, you know, what the recommendation will be. I think I feel pretty good about Chester. I just don't think that there's just not a good alternative for that," says director Dan Long.

Long says the hearings over the closure of the two local facilities were very informative, especially learning that the Chester facility is the only one of its kind in the state, and a change of law would be needed to even close it down.

"It appears that it would be difficult to close the Chester facility," explains Long. "Certainly all the members of the commission, and even the department, simply acknowledged that it was very doubtful that this could possibly be done by the end of March."

As for IYC Murphysboro, Long says keeping the facility open as a youth center may be more difficult to recommend, but testimony provided a different way to keep the center alive.

"It can be converted to a minimum security prison overnight. It's already set up for that, there's no difference. They need the beds. They're substantially overcapacity in the correctional system," says Long.

Any recommendation from the commission is supposed to guide the governor in making the best decision for Illinois. While local lawmakers say they're not holding their breath that Governor Quinn will change his mind, Long is more confident.

"We've had a number of these facility closure hearings. The administration has gone along with every one of our recommendations.To either keep them open, or close them."

And residents hope they've said all they can to keep the centers open.

The commission has until November 5th to make a recommendation for the IYC Murphysboro, and until November 12th for the Chester Mental Health Center. However, members are planning on another hearing during the October veto session, when they will likely make their decision.

Meanwhile, many local lawmakers are trying to rally the General Assembly to find an extra $75 million in the budget to continue to fund these two facilities. Governor Quinn is also calling for a shifting of state dollars to keep the centers open.
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