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Two Southern Illinois lawmakers are miffed about a watchdog group's pursuit for change at Tamms Correctional Center in Alexander County.

"I wish they would realize in Chicago that what they think is necessarily good for them, is not necessarily good for us in Southern Illinois," said Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, likewise took aim at the watchdog group Tamms Year Ten that supports a bill for changes to the state's maximum security prison Tamms, which is commonly referred to as a supermax prison and is said to house the worst of the worst violent criminals.

"It's just a little group from Chicago and they're making a lot of noise. It's an argument that will never stop," Phelps said.

Tamms Year Ten recently gained support from some other Illinois state lawmakers, legal experts, clergy and mental health officials in a letter sent to Gov. Pat Quinn asking him to intervene in the operation of Tamms.

The letter asks Quinn to sign an executive order that stops the placement of mentally ill prisoners at Tamms, bans long-term solitary confinement unless an inmate is deemed a threat, and establish oversight from an Illinois Department of Human Services' Mental Health Division committee.

"No one is sentenced to the supermax for their crime - they are transferred from regular prisons as extra punishment. Yet, there are no clear standards for placement in the supermax, no way to earn your way out and few due process requirements.

"Prisoners in other Illinois prisons are given hearings before they are sentenced to even one-month in solitary. Prisoners rarely leave the supermax and many of them have better disciplinary histories than men in the other prisons. In short, this particular system is an administrative black hole," said Tamms Year Ten member Laurie Jo Reynolds in an earlier interview with The Southern Illinoisan.

Phelps said he has Department of Corrections statistics to show that since Tamms was designated as the site to place the most violent criminals, prisoner violence and gang activity has decreased at other state units and fewer weapons have been confiscated by security guards.

He said the system is working and the only change needed at Tamms is more state prison employees.

Forby said any tinkering with the prison population at Tamms by relocating some inmates to other security units would be a "bad deal."

"Where are you going to put them? They can't be together with lesser violent inmates," Forby said.

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Phelps said he does not notice any increase of support from other state lawmakers for a bill authored by Rep. Julie Hamos, D-Evanston, earlier in the session calling for changes at Tamms.

"I don't believe it's gaining strength. I haven't heard other legislators getting on board," Phelps said.

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