SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ prison chief has changed some security rules for inmates transferred from the high-security Tamms prison when it closes, despite a promise to lawmakers that the exacting stan-dards for managing the state’s most dangerous inmates would follow them to their new lock-up.
The day before the first Tamms inmates moved to Pontiac in early August, Corrections Director S.A. “Tony” Godinez jettisoned the policy the agency had said it would use for managing the volatile pris-oners, issuing a one-sentence, confidential memo obtained by The Associated Press.
The agency won’t release the obsolete plan, but the rules now in place mean fewer officers and fewer chains on inmates when they’re out of their cells at their new home, the maximum-security prison at Pontiac, according to interviews and an AP comparison of internal Corrections documents.
Shuttering Tamms also means fewer available cells, so fewer ways to segregate troublemakers. To ensure volatile arrivals from Tamms remain sequestered, current Pontiac inmates in isolation will have to double up.
One fight between formerly segregated Pontiac prisoners on Aug. 24 — less than a day after landing in the same cell — only ended after two pepper spray bursts, according to internal reports the AP obtained.
Security concerns at the state’s prisons surfaced after Gov. Pat Quinn announced money-saving closures of several facilities, including Tamms. Critics of the plan, including some prison employees and legislators, question how the “worst of the worst” inmates from the state’s supermax prison can be safely managed in already packed penitentiaries. Designed for 33,700 inmates, they hold over 49,000.
Quinn, a Democrat, says the 14-year-old Tamms is underutilized and its byzantine security measures too expensive. Human rights advocates have attacked it for an isolation method they call inhumane.
Facing lawmakers last spring, Godinez promised that out-of-cell movement rules at Pontiac would be “identical” to those at Tamms. “The policies and procedures will follow” the inmates, he said.
Asked about that testimony earlier this month, spokeswoman Stacey Solano softened Godinez’s pledge and stood by the new rules.
“Not every single process and protocol from Tamms will be completely replicated at Pontiac,” Solano said. “Tamms and Pontiac are structurally different. However, the policies the department uses for this population at Pontiac ensure the same level of security.”
That surprised Rep. Mike Bost, the Murphysboro Republican who confronted Godinez about post-closure procedures at a legislative hearing.
“I took it literally whenever he said we’re going to repeat this same procedure,” Bost said.
If not, Bost said it proves the critics’ point: The state still needs a prison for extremely violent inmates and the thugs who keep running street gangs on the inside.