Officials Consider Closing Illinois Super Max Prison

Apr 3, 2012

The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability met yesterday to hear testimony on the closure of the Tamms Correctional Center in far southern Illinois. While locals championed the facility’s benefits …human rights groups and inmates’ families urged the state to shutter its only Super Max prison.

Representatives from advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International derided the prison’s use of solitary confinement.  Rose Sifuentes visits her imprisoned son every month. She says he’s held alone in his cell 23 hours per day and allowed only minimal exercise.

“The room that you’re allowed to go out in, he describes it as a small little cell with a link chain on the top. And he says, what I do, is I run around, and run around, and pictures myself running through the neighborhood, you know. That I am not here, that I am elsewhere.”

Chip Markel recently retired as chief of security at Tamms. He says claims about solitary confinement are misleading … and recognizes some of the inmates there have mental health problems.

“We have an inmate at Tamms that was at the Dixon Psychiatric Center who took an employee hostage, raped her, and held her for thirty-something hours. He was at Dixon. He’s got mental health issues. The best place for him to be is at Tamms where he can’t do that again. Mental health is not an excuse to say an inmate’s issues are OK.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections estimates the economic impact of closing Tamms will reach approximately 33 million dollars. Regional economic development leaders urged the state to reconsider the closing, as it would devastate the poverty-stricken economy of Illinois’ five southern-most counties.

The Commission has not yet scheduled a date to vote on the prison's  fate.