Illinois planning to close Tamms Prison

From: PA Prison Report, from the Human Rights Coalition:
June 25, 2012

Illinois planning to close Tamms Prison:
Governor Pat Quinn is moving ahead with the closing of the controversial supermax Tamms Correctional Facility, slated for the end of August. As Part of Quinn’s budget plan, Tamms will close in late August to save $26 million for the state of Illinois.

According to NPR, the facility “typically holds fewer than 200 prisoners at a time, costing about $62,000 per inmate per year – about three times the statewide average.” Prisoners are isolated in their cells for 23 hours a day, allowed out only to shower or exercise alone. The prisoner population of Tamms will most likely be moved to prisons in Pontiac and Menard, and placed in single-cell segregation units.

Advocates for prison reform have long argued that the solitary confinement practices of Tamms and other supermax prisons lead to serious lasting psychological damage. Many of the prisoners housed at Tamms already suffer from existing mental illnesses, according to the Tamms Year Ten coalition group. For these individuals, the long term effects of solitary confinement are even more devastating. “By closing Tamms, Illinois will join a growing consensus, and take a critical step toward reforming the state’s prison system to the benefit of public safety, security, and the state’s fiscal health,” a 42-page report from the John Howard Association stated.

There is a slew of criticism about Governor Quinn’s monumental decision, notably from labor union officials and State Senator Dave Luechtefeld. Tamms is the largest employer in an already poverty-stricken area of Illinois. Closing this and other prisons and juvenile detention centers in the state (per Quinn’s budget plan) will cost jobs and livelihoods. There are also concerns that relocating prisoners from Tamms, Dwight, and Murphysboro (the other facilities slated to be shut down) will result in overcrowding and unsafe conditions in the existing prisons.

The closing of the Tamms Supermax provides a rich opportunity to evaluate the practices of solitary confinement. In a statement issued from the ACLU, it was noted that “recent years have seen evaluations in other states, with a reduction in the use of solitary confinement in states like Mississippi, Maine, and Colorado. These states have seen no increase in crime and they have enjoyed considerable cost savings. Illinois can follow this path.”

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