Prisons hold inmates, not secrets
Gov. Pat Quinn's glib answer in rejecting journalists' requests to visit Illinois prisons does nothing other than affirm a position that the public has no right to know what goes on inside those institutions.
Reporters from The Associated Press and WBEZ radio have asked to tour prisons in response to overcrowding and living conditions complaints that might be the result of budget cuts.
"Prisons aren't country clubs," Quinn told reporters when asked about his blanket denial at the State Fair in Springfield.
Here's a follow-up question for Quinn: Who said they were?
The public is free to decide what they consider acceptable living conditions for Illinois prisoners, and you can expect that opinion to range somewhere between medieval dungeon and college dormitory.
And while Quinn can make budget decisions, he holds no right to withhold information that might call those decisions into question.
Quinn added that prisons didn't exist to be "visited and looked at." Are there other state institutions that journalists shouldn't be allowed to tour, since their primary purpose isn't to be "visited and looked at."
What about hospitals or mental health facilities? Should those be off limits, too? Whose tax dollars pay for those facilities?
Prisons are on the budget table along with everything else in Illinois, and Quinn has announced his intentions to close Dwight Correctional and Tamms maximum security prison – built for the most violent offenders – by the end of August.
Representatives of corrections officers' unions already have filed a lawsuit over that decision and are concerned about a system with 48,000 inmates designed to hold 33,000, while a watchdog agency has reported problems with rats and roach infestation, in addition to flooding and inoperable toilets, among other issues.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who has led several tours for legislators and journalists while he was in the General Assembly, expressed disappointment in Quinn's decision to block visits to facilities where billions in state money is spent.
Rutherford said Quinn's response is "uncalled for and out of touch."