Last inmates leave Tamms ‘supermax’ prison

One of the more contentious episodes in the history of Illinois penitentiaries ended Friday as the last inmates held at the “supermax” prison in Tamms moved out and Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration prepares to shut it down.

The final five inmates at the high-security home for the “worst of the worst” were shipped to the Pontiac Correctional Center, a prison spokeswoman said. Among the last to leave was a convict who helped lead a prison riot in 1979 and stabbed serial killer John Wayne Gacy while on death row.

Also bused out of the southern Illinois city were four dozen residents of the adjoining minimum-security work camp, packed off to Sheridan Correctional Center in north-central Illinois.

The departures mark the end of a nearly 15-year experiment with the super maximum-security prison, which supporters say the state still needs for troublemaking convicts — particularly during a time of record inmate population. But opponents contend the prison’s practice of near-total isolation was inhumane and contributed to some inmates’ deteriorating mental health.

More than 130 inmates were moved out of the prison in just nine days, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that legal action by a state workers’ union could no longer hold up the governor’s closure plans. The state has offered to sell the $70 million facility the federal government, but there are no solid plans for the future of the prison, often simply called Tamms.

“It’s sad for our area, but we’re never going to give up,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg whose district includes Tamms. “We still have an overcrowding problem. That’s the deal with this. The governor has made it worse. Eventually, some of these facilities are going to have to reopen.”

But activists opposed to the prison’s isolation practices cheered Friday’s landmark moment. One organizer, Laurie Jo Reynolds, called the course to closure “a democratic process” that involved not high-priced lobbyists or powerful strategists but, “the people — truly, the people.”

Shuttering Tamms is part of Quinn’s plan to save money. The Democrat said housing an inmate at the prison cost three times what it does at general-population prisons. He has also closed three halfway houses for inmates nearing sentence completion, relocating their 159 inmates, and plans to shutter the women’s prison in Dwight. 

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Two Illinois prisons to close

From: Beloit Daily News
June 20, 2012

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn revealed Tuesday that he is closing state prisons in Tamms and Dwight even though the budget sent to him by legislators includes money to maintain the prisons and the hundreds of jobs they create.

The administration also said it will close halfway houses in Carbondale, Chicago and Decatur, along with youth prisons in Murphysboro and Joliet.

Tamms, in far southern Illinois, is home to a “supermax” prison that houses the most dangerous inmates and employees about 300 people. The Dwight facility is a women’s prison in north-central Illinois with 350 employees. Together they house about 1,400 inmates.

Closing them will mean squeezing more inmates into the remaining prisons, which are already seriously overcrowded. The system now houses about 14,000 more inmates than it was designed to hold.

Word of the governor’s decision came in the form of a memo to state employees letting them know they would soon get information on how layoffs will be handled.

Later, Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft released a statement saying the Tamms prison is only half-full and far more expensive than other facilities. Dwight is close to several other prisons, she said.
“Overall, these closures will allow the state to better live within our means and address the state’s most pressing needs,” Kraft said.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a Republican, warned that the move could jeopardize safety. “Overcrowded prisons pose a real danger to employees and local communities,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, was clearly angry that his region stands to lose a prison, a halfway house and a youth camp.

“The governor says he’s a jobs governor. I don’t know if I can believe that anymore when he’s cutting 500 jobs in southern Illinois,” Phelps said.

Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, said much the same about closing Dwight, calling it “reckless.”
Most of the closures will take effect Aug. 31. The Joliet youth camp will stay open until Oct. 31.

Quinn’s decision “elated” activists with Tamms Year Ten, a volunteer campaign to reform or close the supermax prison. Tamms inmates are kept isolated in their cells 23 hours a day for years at a time, a practice that some view as cruel and harmful for the prisoners.

Organizer Laurie Jo Reynolds said the prisoners’ “family members, especially the mothers, are relieved and grateful that the long nightmare at Tamms has ended.”

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Last inmates to leave Nevada State Prison next month

Thank you to and FFIP for alerting us to this news item:

From: LVRJ

Dec 6, 2011

CARSON CITY — The aging Nevada State Prison will be emptied of its last 140 inmates and 73 staff members on Jan. 9, nearly three months before the closure date authorized by legislators, the state’s top prison official said Monday.

Corrections Director Greg Cox told the state Board of Prison Commissioners that he has followed the intent of the legislators who were concerned about prison workers losing their jobs unnecessarily. He said jobs will be found in other prisons for most staff members who want them.

Cox said some employees who refuse to relocate to a prison 100 miles away in Lovelock will be laid off, but they will be eligible for jobs when there are openings in Carson City.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, chairman of the prisons board, told Cox to prepare a written report on his closure plan and submit it to legislators and the commissioners.

Sandoval and fellow Prison Commissioners Ross Miller, the secretary of state, and Catherine Cortez Masto, the attorney general, asked why they had not been told earlier of Cox’s plan closing the prison before they expected. They did not, however, block the move.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, insisted in May that the prison remain open until April 1 so that jobs could be found for staff members in other prisons. Sandoval had proposed closing it Oct. 1 of this year but couldn’t get the support to do so. Horsford did not respond for comment Monday.

“The intent of the Legislature as I understand it was to reduce layoffs in the Carson (City) area and reduce the likelihood that staff would have to relocate in other areas of the state,” Cox said after the meeting.

He said the Corrections Department ran up $2.5 million in unbudgeted overtime costs in July through September. That was blamed on other prisons not having a sufficient number of corrections officers while the Nevada State Prison had more than it needed to care for its declining inmate population.

After officers are transferred from Nevada State Prison to other prisons, the overtime costs should drop, he said.

Cox will be required to justify the overtime and seek emergency funds from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, which meets Dec. 15.

The 144-year-old prison held 700 inmates earlier this year when the Legislature approved its closure as a cost savings measure. They estimated the closure would save $15 million. Repeated attempts by former Gov. Jim Gibbons to close the prison had been blocked by legislators.

Most inmates have been or will be moved to new wings in the High Desert State Prison near Indian Springs, about 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It costs $14,000 a year to keep an inmate there, compared with $23,000 at Carson City .

Cox said jobs already have been found for most prison workers at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center and conservation camps in the Carson City area.

Sixteen guards agreed to take jobs at the Lovelock State Prison. Thirteen others can take jobs there but have refused, a step allowed by regulations because of the long distance from their current jobs.

Cox could not estimate the total number of layoffs after the Jan. 9 closure.

Read the rest here.

Officials moving to shutter Nevada State Prison

From: Nevada Appeal
By GEOFF DORNAN, July 20, 2011

Prison officials are moving ahead with plans to close down the historic Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street.

Since May, when the Legislature voted to shut NSP down, Director of Corrections Greg Cox has been slowly moving inmates and staff to other institutions as space became available. He said about 130 close-custody and special-needs inmates have already been moved out of NSP to institutions including Warm Springs and Northern Nevada Correctional Center, both in Carson City.

The most dangerous were moved to Ely State Prison, Nevada’s maximum-security institution.

Some special-needs inmates were moved to Lovelock Correctional Center, 70 miles northeast of Reno along Interstate 80.

High Desert Correctional Center in southern Nevada, the state’s newest prison, will get nearly all of the more than 500 remaining inmates. That institution has two new and vacant units with enough capacity to hold those inmates.

Cox said the closure is being handled in a four-phase process designed to “limit the impact on staff and the community.”

“The Legislature’s intent and the department’s goal is to complete the closure in a safe, secure and efficient manner and to do this with as few staff layoffs as possible,” he said.

More than 200 corrections employees were assigned to NSP.

Cox told lawmakers in May that if they gave him time, he could greatly reduce the number of layoffs the closure would cause.

At the suggestion of state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, the Legislature delayed the governor’s plan to close NSP by Oct. 31 back to March 31. Cox said that should reduce the projected 107 layoffs to 30 or less.

The department has already been able to close two units at NSP, which allowed it to move some staff to other area institutions where there are vacancies, including Lovelock.

Over the next few months, additional units will be closed as inmates are transferred out.

Cox told the Board of Examiners earlier this year that nearly all correctional staff willing to transfer would be able to keep a job. He has also said he expects some retirements among veteran officers who don’t want to leave the Carson City area.

The closure is driven by the fact that the antiquated design of NSP — parts of which are more than 100 years old — requires nearly twice as many correctional staff to operate as the state’s newest prison, High Desert in southern Nevada. Because of that difference, Cox testified during the legislative session, it costs $23,615 a year to keep inmates there, compared to just $14,061 at High Desert.

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Door to clang shut on ancient state prison
Las Vegas Sun

By Cy Ryan

Saturday, May 14, 2011

CARSON CITY – The ancient Nevada State Prison, initially opened when Abraham Lincoln was president, is finally going to close.

The Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee voted Saturday to phase out the Carson City facility by April 2012 at a savings of more than $17 million.

Most of the 682 inmates will be transferred to the High Desert State Prison in Clark County, along with 59 staff.

Gov Brian Sandoval proposed in his budget the closure by Oct. 31 this year, but the budget committees, on the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, delayed the phase out.

Horsford said more time was needed to plan the transfer and this would give the officers who are losing their jobs more time to find other employment. And those who are being transferred to High Desert will have more time to re-locate.

The prison, one of the oldest in the United States, was a hotel when purchased by the state in 1862. It burned in 1867 and was rebuilt.

There will be 105 positions eliminated by the closure. But Greg Cox, acting director of the state Department of Corrections, said some of those jobs have been kept vacant.

He said only about 30 officers would lose their jobs. Almost all the officers will retain their employment if they want to move to Las Vegas or other prisons.
Horsford, chairman of the Senate Finance, got assurance from Cox that there were no plans for building a new prison or for expanded facilities.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, complained the former corrections director didn’t do any maintenance on the state prison. He said he would not support closure because so many people are affected.

The joint committees voted down the recommendation of Gov. Sandoval. And there was applause from prison employees in the audience.

But then Sandoval offered the plan to keep it open six months longer than the recommendation and that passed.

Read the rest here.

Closure of Nevada State Prison gaining traction

By Geoff Dornan 

Feb 16, 2011

 Nevada Appeal

Support for the plan to shut down Nevada State Prison appeared to gain some traction among lawmakers touring the historic institution Tuesday.

“I’m leaning toward it’s a logical decision,” said Assembly Judiciary Chairman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, following the two-hour tour of the historic prison on Fifth Street.

The previous director of corrections Howard Skolnik tried twice to shut down the prison, the state’s oldest and most labor intensive institution. Lawmakers including Horne and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, objected not only to the loss of nearly 200 jobs in the Carson City area but to what they argued was an ill-

conceived and vague plan with estimated savings that seemed to change with every presentation.

Skolnik’s replacement Greg Cox, however, said he has much firmer numbers and a more detailed plan. His estimate is closing the prison would save $16.1 million over the biennium, primarily in salaries and benefits to the correctional workers who now staff the prison.

Cox said while the prison takes almost 200 employees to operate and manages more than 700 inmates, the new, vacant units at High Desert Prison in Southern Nevada would require only 59 officers to handle 672 inmates.

He said if lawmakers act soon and give him until Oct. 31 to shutter the prison, he can dramatically reduce the number of layoffs to as few as 30.

“The numbers do make a little more sense than last time,” said Horne. “There’s a better plan in place to absorb the inmates.”

Gene Columbus representing the correctional workers said the union still opposes that move because, with one less medium security institution, the system would “lose flexibility, the ability to manage inmates.” He said that increases the chances of inmates who shouldn’t be housed in close proximity being able to get to each other and cause problems for other inmates and staff.

Several other members of the Judiciary Committee said they too support the plan including Republicans Richard McArthur of Las Vegas, Ira Hansen of Reno and Kelly Kite of Douglas County.

“I can’t argue with the facts they gave us when we’ve got a new prison with empty beds,” said Kite.

Hansen said he agrees with closing it: “We’re in such a financial mess that every penny needs to be accounted for.”

He suggested the state might recoup some money from the institution by turning the oldest parts of it, built in the 1800s, into a museum.

Read the rest here.


Nevada DOC Recommends State Prison Closure and charging onetime for a visit at ESP!

From a visitors’point of view: Has Howard Skolnik ever seen the empty visiting room at ESP? Does he know how much it already costs visitors to get to Ely from anywhere? What about cutting the number of lawsuits against NDOC by NDOC keeping to their own rules?

From: Correctional News

Prison officials here say $9 million a year could be saved annually if the Nevada State Prison in Carson City was closed and turned into a tourist attraction or training center, according to reports.

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Prison officials here say $9 million a year could be saved annually if the Nevada State Prison in Carson City was closed and turned into a tourist attraction or training center, according to reports. In promoting efficiency in state government, Nevada Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik said other prisons could house the more than 600 inmates presently at Nevada State Prison, the state would not need to build another prison for 10 years.

Money saved from the closure could be put into other areas, such as education.In his proposed budget submitted to Gov. Jim Gibbons, Skolnik not only called for the prison to be closed, but suggested the elimination of extra pay for those officers working in rural areas. Skolnik said he reduced the extra pay for rural officers to get within the 10 percent reduction ordered by the governor.

He also recommended a one-time $15 charge for a person who visits an inmate, which would cover part of the background check cost. The downturn in the economy has also nixed a plan to build an industrial park in Clark County on 22 acres the prison owns.

Nevada Correctional Officers Association President Gene Columbus questioned how much money could be saved and predicted that eliminating extra pay would result in a “mass exodus” of workers.

State prison gets a reprieve from ax

From: Las Vegas Review-Journal
July 13, 2010
Governor outvoted on closure plan


CARSON CITY — Nevada’s oldest prison will be allowed to get a bit older.

For the second month in a row, the state Prison Board’s Democratic members voted 2-1 Tuesday to block an attempt by Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons to close the 140-year-old Nevada State Prison.

Gibbons had called for the closure to cut spending because of a drop in state tax revenues caused by the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.

Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto want legislators sitting on the Interim Finance Committee to use as much as $8.3 million in an emergency fund to exempt correctional officers throughout the state from mandatory one-day-a-month furloughs and keep the prison open.

They asked Corrections Director Howard Skolnik to present such a request, including the amount of money he needs. His request would be reviewed by the state Board of Examiners and later the Interim Finance Committee.

Read more here.

Board temporarily halts Nevada State Prison closure

June 23, 2010
By David McGrath Schwartz

CARSON CITY — A divided Board of State Prison Commissioners temporarily stopped the closure of Nevada State Prison in Carson City on Wednesday, even after the director painted a grim picture of the state’s correction system and said he needed staff and inmates transferred to other facilities.

Gov. Jim Gibbons said he would still give the department authority to transfer prisoners out of the facility for security reasons.

This prompted Secretary of State Ross Miller to warn against an end-run around the board and told the governor not to “act like a petulant 15-year-old.”

Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said they wanted to see the detailed plan on how the 700-bed prison would be closed. The board will meet again July 13. Miller and Masto told Corrections Director Howard Skolnik they should have been brought in to make the policy decision to close the prison.

It’s unclear how Gibbons will react. Gibbons has maintained that the director of the Department of Corrections answers to the governor, and not to the board.

Gibbons said if it was a matter of safety, prisoners would be transferred out. “I’m not going to stand by and let the security of the officers and community be put in danger,” he said.

Gibbons, who makes up the third member of the board, voted against the delay. He also questioned how much authority the board has over the Department of Corrections. “We’re looking at our legal options,” he said after the meeting.

Skolnik said directors and governors have unilaterally made decisions to close prisons in the past.
A deputy attorney general said statute gives the board authority over the state prison system.

Skolnik described a prison system that is already at 85 percent of what an audit said should be minimum staffing. He said violent incidents have gone up nearly 50 percent. As the system closes gyms and programs for inmates to save money, violent incidents would continue to increase. “As you take things away, prisoners have less to lose,” Skolnik said.

The latest stress on the system are furloughs set to begin July 1. The Department of Corrections has, until now, been exempt from unpaid days off because of safety concerns.

Skolnik said existing problems will be exacerbated unless he has the ability to move staff and inmates at Nevada State Prison to other, more secure facilities.

In the past week and a half, about 200 prisoners have been removed from Nevada State Prison.

Skolnik said he could institute the furloughs, but he’ll have to use additional overtime money.

Gibbons agreed to come back in the interim with a detailed plan for the closure. But, he said, “I’m still going to ask Director Skolnik to do what’s necessary to ensure the safety of the staff and community.”

Miller recognized the giant loophole that could provide.

“Whether or not there’s a gray area, and whether or not there’s an opportunity to play political games with that or act like a petulant 15-year-old is up in the air,” Miller said.

Miller also had a tense exchange with Skolnik when Miller suggested that the plan to close the prison was “secret.” Skolnik said they would not be publicly releasing details about inmate movements or staffing that could affect security, but he said he would provide the information to the Prison Commissioners.

Read more here:
Las Vegas Sun

Video: Nevada State Prison: rundown & outdated or effective?

My News4, June 18, 2010


See also here:

Secretary of State Ross Miller has called for an emergency meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners next Wednesday to prevent Gov. Jim Gibbons from shutting down Nevada State Prison.

“Thus far the plan to close NSP has been justified with absolutely no documentation showing it a sound plan,” he said. “I think it’s fiscally irresponsible and is going to jeopardize public safety.”

The prison commissioners, Miller said, have the authority to block the governor’s executive order under the constitutional provisions giving that panel the power to oversee operation of the prison system. That board consists of the governor, Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who has backed Miller on the issue in the past.

“There has been nothing presented at a board of prisons meeting in support of closing NSP,” said Miller.

When the latest move to shut down the 100-plus year old prison on 5th Street was announced Thursday, Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik said he has legal counsel’s support that where inmates are housed is his decision, not the Legislature’s or the prison commission’s.

He said the officers at NSP are needed to fill staffing gaps at other area prisons once mandatory day-a-month furloughs begin in July.

Lynn Hettrick, deputy chief of staff to Gibbons, backed Skolnik on that point: “We believe he has the right to run the prison system the way he needs to.”

Miller said closing NSP has also been rejected more than once by the Nevada Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, both D-Las Vegas, issued a statement objecting to “the sudden closure of this prison without a plan for transferring and housing the prisoners.” They said the closure doesn’t make sense, especially when there is a chance the system will run out of inmate beds even with NSP open.

The old prison holds up to 700 inmates, and Skolnik said Thursday his plan is to shut it down over the course of the next few months, moving inmates to other institutions and moving the prison’s staff to Northern Nevada Correctional Center, Warm Springs — both in Carson City — or Lovelock.

He said those staff positions are crucial to inmate and staff safety since furloughs will further stretch an already dangerously thin staffing ratio. Without moving those positions, he said, he doesn’t believe his officers can safely take the furloughs.

Union officials — who have pushed legislative Democrats to block the closure plan for more than two years — also protested. Gene Columbus of the Nevada Corrections Association charged that the governor’s order was a surprise attack which would jeopardize the governor’s responsibility to protect the public. Ron Bratsch of the northern branch of the correctional officers association said lawmakers voted not to close it and that they and the prison commission have the final say, not the prison director.

Miller said historically, the prison commissioners have given the director discretion to run the prison but that closing an entire prison is unprecedented.

Skolnik said that’s not the case, that directors have three times shut down Southern Desert Correctional Center and that he shut Silver Springs Conservation Camp — all without legislative or commission permission and with no challenges to that authority.

Miller and Gibbons have been butting heads for several years over the commission’s role in prison system management. Gibbons contends the commission is “a policy board,” with no role in the department’s budget.

Read more here..