Tamms is inhumane and should be closed

Opinion: Columns

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Tom Broderick

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"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.


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Reader Comments

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Posted: November 2nd, 2012 5:52 PM

I agree, Tamms should be closed. All the current POS that occupy that facility should then be EXECUTED. Good Day

Britney from Kalamazoo  

Posted: November 2nd, 2012 2:17 PM

Thanks Ben and Jerry for your heartfelt comments, I take it you both dont have sons because if you did Im sure you guys would both have whats called a heart, and besides who made you God? Most of the inmates have been wrongly accused so we dont really dont know, Im so glad my mom got our family away from that crazy place away from people like you... Thanks mom.

Ben From Illinois from Carbondale  

Posted: August 1st, 2012 10:38 AM

If the author knew anything about the prisons in Illinois, he wouldn't demonizing Tamms. Do you know where they are going to house these inmates when the close Tamms? Menard and Pontiac. Do you know how much more time they will have out of their cell? Zero. Do you know the difference between the cells in Tamms and the cells in Menard/Pontiac? Half the size and no air conditioning. They will get same classification as they did at Tamms as an elevated security level only in a building 100 ys old.

Joe from South Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2012 2:08 PM

I think the question that cuts to the heart of the matter is whether or not there are people in our society that cannot be integrated into society. There are people who cannot be rehabilitated and are unsafe in any environment. The folks that are placed in supermax prisons are too violent to integrate into a normal prison population. It may be more inhumane to allow these people into normal prison than to keep them in isolation for everyones safety.

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