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The now-closed Tamms super-maximum security facility is pictured in 2015.

TAMMS — What little hope remained of reopening or repurposing the shuttered Tamms Correctional Center continues to grow dimmer.

The prison and its adjacent work camp are “rampant” with mold, Lindsey Hess, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, confirmed on Wednesday, and would require millions of dollars of treatment.

A 2015 inspection by ExecuClean Restoration found high levels of Aspergillus and Penicillium molds, which are “responsible for more human health issues worldwide than any other group of fungi,” including many respiratory illnesses, the company stated.

At the time of that report, the Tamms prison had been closed about three years. It remains vacant to this day.

“The future of Tamms is uncertain at this time, but there are currently no plans to sell or renovate the facility,” Hess said, nor to reopen it.

Just addressing the mold issue would cost some $2.5 million, Hess said, and would require the removal of all “drywall, carpet, counters, counter tops and cabinets,” per ExecuClean’s recommendations.

Tamms was shuttered in 2013 by then-Gov. Pat Quinn, who consolidated corrections facilities across the state and region to cut costs.

Quinn was also facing pressure from politicians, activists and prisoners’ families who argued that conditions at Tamms — 23 hours a day of solitary confinement in a 7-by-12-foot concrete cell with an hour of recreation on condition of good behavior — were inhumane.

As the state’s only supermax prison, Tamms was designed to house gang leaders, destructive and violent prisoners, and other inmates who were dangerous to the general prison population.

TAMMS -- The residents of Tamms have a hard time agreeing these days on the village's population count. The U.S. Census in 2010 pegged it at 6…

But investigations by watchdog groups alleged Tamms became a cruel home for mentally ill prisoners, whose condition worsened as they were deprived of social interaction, human contact and sensory stimulation.

“Tamms never should’ve been closed, But from the beginning it should’ve been run according to the original rules established for it,” said State Rep. Terri Bryant, who worked for IDOC before entering politics.

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PRISON CLOSURES

The Tamms Correctional Center was 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). 

Tamms was not intended for the kind of long-term imprisonment that occurred there, with some inmates spending more than 10 years in continuous solitary confinement, Bryant explained.

Terri Bryant mugshot

Bryant

“Originally, no one was supposed to go there for more than a year,” Bryant said. “That was not the place for mental health inmates to be.”

Now many state politicians reject the practices of supermax confinement, Bryant said. But repurposing Tamms as anything else will be a challenge, because much of the prison is built underground, and to the specifications of a supermax facility.

The prison yard, for instance, is a “concrete tube,” within the prison that provides inmates a glimpse of sky, but no access to the outdoors, Bryant said, conditions unacceptable for a lower security facility.

Shortly after its closure, Tamms was gutted as the state transferred usable items like bed units, administrative chairs and binoculars to other correctional facilities.

“They have basically cannibalized the facility,” Bryant said, making finding a new use for the $73 million complex even tougher.

More recently, the state made another cost-saving move, hiring a private security firm to keep an eye on the facilities, which were previously supervised round-the-clock by two state-employed guards from the Vienna Correctional Center.

Meanwhile, the communities that donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money to bring the supermax project to Tamms are struggling without it.

“It’s been devastating. We lost a lot of jobs when Tamms closed,” said State Sen. Dale Fowler. “We have to find other ways of job creation.”

Fowler, whose 59th District includes the town of Tamms, said visiting the facilities, especially the work camp, was high on his list of priorities, as the state prepares its 2020 budget.

Dale Fowler

Fowler

“We need a work camp in Southern Illinois,” Fowler said after the Hardin County Work Camp was closed in early 2016. “It’s important to the offenders, to gain work experience and do some community service, and it’s important to the municipalities as well.”

But no such projects will be possible in Tamms without a lot of investment.

“This is going to get worse before it gets better if we don’t do something soon,” Fowler said. “Mold remediation is expensive and the worse it gets, the more it’s going to cost the state. We need to find a use for these facilities.”

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Reporter

Gabriel Neely-Streit is a reporter for The Southern covering higher education.

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