Gov. Pat Quinn recently proposed closing Ilinois’ supermax prison located in Tamms. His main concern, it seems, is a financial one. Tamms’ prison per inmate costs the state three times what it would cost another state facility to house a prisoner.
Such a closure would entail laying off prison guards who tend that prison. That loss of jobs is being fought tooth-and-nail by those involved and by local politicians.
States have been on this “tough on crime” prison kick for more than a decade, but now, more of them are realizing that the daily solitary confinement so many prisoners face is not only financially unsustainable, it causes life-long physiological and psychological harm as a result of the extreme isolation. Of the 198 presently held at Tamms, some have been there since it opened more than 10 years ago. We are talking about total isolation — locked in a cell 23 or 24 hours a day — with a guard shoving your meal through a slot in the cell wall.
To know some men have been confined in such a manner for all those years is unimaginable. Mental illness runs rampant as can be seen in the case of Anthony Gay. Gay was initially incarcerated for a minor offense and received a seven-year sentence. But along the way, he now owes the Tamms Correctional Center 97 years for various infractions such as throwing feces.
Are we so desperate as a society that this is the best we can offer our communities looking for jobs to support their families? The National Religious Campaign Against Torture realizes that prolonged solitary confinement can cause serious harm to prisoners, and it has long been considered a form of torture. NRCAT has stated on its website that “the closure of Tamms would be both a symbolic and tangible victory for the fight to end prolonged solitary confinement”.
Tanya Greene, of The Huffington Post, agrees that such isolation “jeopardizes public safety by leaving prisoners ill-equipped to re-enter society; exacerbates mental illness and even creates symptoms of mental illness in formerly healthy prisoners.”
An increasing number of states realize that long periods of solitary confinement are ineffective, and quite expensive, according to the New York Times. Governor Quinn is realizing what these other states are saying.
Saving the state some $26 million dollars annually by closing Tamms would be a move in the right, just and humane direction. Now the legislators, who are fighting to keep the torture chamber thriving, need to get busy finding wholesome and meaningful work for their constituents so desperate for work.
Southern Illinois Prisoner