Prisoner and human rights advocates in favor of Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close the supermax Tamms Correctional Center describe the facility as inhumane, expensive and unnecessary.
Lawmakers as well as current and former corrections staff who want Tamms to remain in the system disagree. They say the 14-year-old facility is a necessary tool to keep violence at a minimum.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall is one such opponent.
“The shorthand some have used to describe Tamms’ population is ‘the worst of the worst.’ I think that shorthand doesn’t capture the range of inmates incarcerated there,” Lindall said.
“They include … those who themselves have committed heinous, violent attacks on prison employees or on fellow inmates including rape, hostage taking and murder at other prisons.”
Representatives from Quinn’s office and the Department of Corrections acknowledge there are dangerous inmates at Tamms. However, they also say the system can safely house Tamms inmates such as Henry Brisbon, Ike Easley, Michael Johnson, William Cabrera, David Starks and Anthony White at other prisons.
Brisbon, 56, earned his reputation as the “I-57 Killer” for three murders in the 1970s. He killed again, two years into a 3,000-year sentence, when he stabbed inmate Ronald Morgan with a sharpened soup ladle while incarcerated at Stateville. In 1983, Brisbon stabbed serial killer John Wayne Gacy while on death row.
According to Brisbon’s IDOC offender handling report, he has committed 24 assaults on corrections staff, four involving knifelike weapons and eight involving “some other type of weapon.”
Easley, 50, was a convicted murderer serving time at Pontiac when he killed prison superintendent Robert Taylor in 1987. Prosecutors said the murder was gang-ordered. Like Brisbon, Easley’s death sentence was commuted by former Gov. George Ryan.
Easley “has an extensive history of gang activity, drugs, dangerous contraband, intimidation and threats,” according to the IDOC offender handling report.
Johnson, 59, was convicted of ordering the hit on Taylor and is serving life without parole after commutation. He was transferred to Tamms in 1998, the year the prison opened. Johnson was featured in a 2009 article about Tamms called “Tougher Than Guantanamo,” in which he was described as “reputedly a high-ranking El Rukn gang member.”
Johnson and Easley were listed as inmates to be transferred to Menard in a July 13 email.
Cabrera, 51, and Starks, 50, were involved in the murder of Department of Corrections officer Lawrence “Frank” Kush in 1989 at Stateville, the most recent murder of a guard.
Cabrera, reputed to be a Latin Kings enforcer, recruited Starks and another inmate to carry out the gang-ordered hit on Kush. Cabrera was among the first inmates sent to Tamms when it opened.
White, 26, was convicted of aggravated discharge of a firearm in Bond County in 2005. He escaped from the county jail about a year later, which landed him in Joliet, from which he was transferred after an escape attempt.
White was busted for planning an escape from Pontiac in December 2008. Weeks later, he attempted another escape. White choked a corrections officer unconscious, stole a uniform and radio, and tried to leave the prison.
Although these six inmates are among the most notorious in Tamms, the prison houses dozens convicted of murder, rape, assaults on staff and other inmates, kidnapping, weapons charges and attempted escape.
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