- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Compliance with federal court orders at Illinois’ prisons could be in jeopardy if Gov. Bruce Rauner shuts down hundreds of state construction projects next week.

The Republican has said he’ll freeze projects if there’s not a budget deal by July 1. He’s vetoed 19 budget bills. Lawmakers gather in Springfield next week.

More than 600 projects are on the chopping block, including plans to build mental health treatment units at three prisons in Pontiac, Lincoln and Joliet to comply with a proposed settlement in a federal lawsuit, the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reports (http://bit.ly/1HipVLD ) reported.

The suit filed by prison inmates seeks to improve how the state cares for a growing number of mentally ill people who are incarcerated.

The state has said in settlement talks over the issue that it will add mental health treatment units at the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center and the all-female Logan Correctional Center. The state also said it will convert a former youth prison in Joliet to serve as a treatment facility for adult prisons with mental health issues.

Sen. Pat McGuire is among the state lawmakers concerned about a potential delay to the establishment of mental health services at those facilities. McGuire was assured earlier this year by a top Illinois Department of Corrections official that money for the conversion of Joliet was secure, he said.

“I’m not a lawyer, but I wonder if the administration is playing with fire by potentially delaying the opening of the facility,” McGuire said.

But Nicole Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, downplayed his concerns over the possible effects of the freeze.

“The budget impasse will not impact the IDOC’s commitment to improve treatment for inmates who need mental health services,” Wilson wrote in an email.

Rauner’s office declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the state also is working to upgrade a vermin- and mold-infested building at the minimum-security Vienna Correctional Center in order to avoid a separate court order regarding conditions at the facility. The project also is among the 607 projects listed in an administration document as those affected by Rauner’s threatened freeze.

Upgrades to the building on the Vienna campus are ongoing, but they won’t be completed by July 1, according to Wilson.

“We still need to complete renovations on several inmate bathrooms, replace windows, and replace the roof,” she said.

McGuire questions why the governor would endanger a favorable settlement when they money being used to pay for the projects comes out of an account that’s not affected by the budget impasse.

“The state is seeking to avoid a consent decree because consent decrees can be restrictive,” said McGuire. “That work does not have an impact on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.”

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

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