"The worst of the worst" is the rationale used to send human beings to death row. The expression dehumanizes and demonizes so we can exercise cruelty with comfort. The finality of capital punishment established checkpoints to at least help keep an innocent person from execution. This is not true for those sentenced to serve long sentences for major felonies.
Prisoners convicted of major felonies often enter the Department of Corrections and essentially vanish from public view. They are gone and forgotten. Those sent to Tamms Correctional Center have maintained a higher profile due to prison conditions.
Tamms is located in Tamms, Ill., where Missouri and Kentucky border Illinois. It is a supermax prison. Prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for the duration of their terms. There are no communal activities. They leave their cells only to shower or exercise in solitary.
Tamms was set up to correct behavior through isolation and then integrate prisoners into the general prison population within a year. This was extended to two years when the goal failed. A large percentage of the population has been living in isolation for more than a decade. This has led to an increase in mental illness with decreasing chance of integration either into the general prison population or back into the world outside of prison.
Extreme isolation is cruel. It negatively impacts the mental health of those subjected to long-term deprivation. Human Rights Watch, the John Howard Association, and faith and community leaders from Illinois have called for closing Tamms.
Gov. Quinn has decided to close Tamms. He wants the Illinois legislature to redirect the money saved, to the Department of Child and Family Services. Bravo! The redirection of revenue requires action by our legislature. They should follow the Governor's lead.
Closing the prison may cost workers their jobs. Gov. Quinn stated he will offer transfers to the Illinois Department of Corrections officers who are affected by the closing. Even if jobs are provided in other locations, family lives and communities will be disrupted.
Most of the prisoners from Tamms will be relocated to Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac, which is far from Tamms. Others will be sent to Menard Correctional Center in Chester. Much closer, but too far to commute. Both Pontiac and Menard have maximum security areas and have housed those condemned to death.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union representing the corrections officers, has launched a campaign to keep Tamms open. On the wrong side of justice, AFSCME is recycling the "worst of the worst" rhetoric used by those who believe in capital punishment. Illinois Department of Corrections Director S.A. "Tony" Godinez estimates that 25 or fewer of the nearly 200 prisoners at Tamms fit this description.
There are some very bad people in Tamms. Some of whom should be kept from the outside world for a very long time. Perhaps forever. But Tamms is a center of cruelty that we can do without. Close it.
Answer Book 2019
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