PRISON CLOSURES

The Tamms Correctional Center located in Tamms, Illinois is composed of two sections, a 200-bed minimum security facility and a 500-bed maximum security facility known as the Closed Maximum Security Unit (CMAX). (The Southern File Photo)

Steve Jahnke

The expected closure of Tamms Correctional Center is one death sentence with which human rights activists can agree.

News of an Aug. 31 demise for the Alexander County supermax prison was met with positive reviews from various advocacy groups and families of inmates. Gov. Pat Quinn was lauded for ending what they considered more than a decade of inhumane isolation and budget-draining expense.

Representatives of Tamms Year Ten were elated by the news.

“Congratulations to Gov. Quinn for making this courageous decision,” attorney Jean Maclean Snyder said. “For once, a needed budget cut makes moral sense.”

Shuttering Tamms is expected to save $26 million a year, according to figures from Quinn’s budget office. Budget office spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the 200-bed prison is only half full and, at $64,800 per inmate, too expensive to run.

“From the day it opened, Tamms was a financial boondoggle and a human rights catastrophe,” Tamms Year Ten’s Laurie Jo Reynolds said. “Illinois fell for a foolish national trend and built an isolation chamber, even though the practice of solitary confinement had been shunned for 100 years.”

Reynolds said solitary confinement causes “lasting mental damage” and forces some inmates to “compulsively attempt suicide.”

Rose Sifuentes, whose son has been imprisoned in Tamms for seven years, thanked Quinn for the expected closure despite the General Assembly finding money to keep Tamms and other facilities open.

“I am indebted to Gov. Quinn. No human being should ever have to endure this type of punishment,” Sifuentes said. “Our state has crossed the line by imposing it.”

Tamms Year Ten advocates pointed to a 2009 exposé that reported many men were sent to Tamms without being charged with a crime while behind bars at other prisons. Half the men who were charged were sent to Tamms for throwing urine or feces at officers.

Many of the prisoners at Tamms were mentally ill, not violent, Tamms Year Ten argued.

Amnesty International has long called for an end to isolation imprisonment, and it backed the closure when Quinn targeted Tamms in February.

Tamms’ supporters, many of whom are corrections officer, said officer and inmate safety at other prisons will decrease after Tamms prisoners are transferred to them.

Kraft said she didn’t think it would be an issue.

“The security level at Tamms for high-level offenders can be safely replicated at other existing facilities,” she said. “Closed maximum-security inmates will be transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center and Menard Correctional Center.”

John Maki, executive director on the non-partisan prison watchdog John Howard Association, said he regretted that Quinn’s decision would cost some prison staff their jobs.

However, Maki said the closure would free up Tamms’ skilled workforce for transfer to other local facilities operating with skeleton crews.

“Any job loss is regrettable, especially in parts of state suffering from unemployment, but I trust the plan that these staff can be reassigned to nearby facilities,” Maki said.

On Twitter: @DW_Norris_SI

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