Activists rally in support of Gov. Quinn’s proposal to close Tamms Correctional Center

By Kaley Fowler

Because it uses solitary confinement as a means of punishment, the Tamms Correctional Center in Tamms, Ill., has been a controversial topic since its opening in 1998. Now, a proposal from Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration may require the facility to close, prompting a greater push from anti-Tamms activists.

In his 2013 budget plan, Quinn proposed closing Tamms to save taxpayers $26.6 million annually. While Quinn’s concern is purely budgetary, Tamms critics are rejoicing at the implication, as demonstrated at an April 4 rally of inmates’ relatives outside the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St.

“Closing Tamms is, for financial reasons, a very obvious thing to do,” said Laurie Jo Reynolds, an organizer of Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots organization that advocates against the prison. “But we’re not here for the financial reasons. We’re here because this is an issue of human dignity.”

Tamms is the only super-maximum security prison in Illinois. Inmates at the facility have been deemed a threat to prison officials and other inmates in the general prison population.

Karl Jackson, who served seven years in solitary confinement at Tamms, said inmates spend 23 hours daily in their cells, cells, furnished solely with a concrete bed, a small window, a sink and a toilet.

He said he and other inmates were “subdued by any means necessary” and were denied adequate medical treatment because they were not allowed to have physical contact with nurses.

At the rally, several former inmates joined the crowd in shouting, “No more cages, no more torture!” and “Torture is a crime, not a career!”

“Tamms is one of the most atrocious places that has ever existed,” said Reginald King Barry Sr., who served eight years in the center. “It really shouldn’t be called a prison. It should be called a dungeon, a facility of torture.”

Their shouts grew louder as the protesters marched east on Randolph Street to the Tamms union AFSCME’s headquarters at 205 N. Michigan Ave. Outside the headquarters, the crowd continued to chant as mothers of inmates signed a letter to AFSCME condemning its support of Tamms.

The letter was not well-received by AFSCME officials.

“Those pushing to close Tamms demonstrate little concern for the safety of the 13,000 employees and 50,000 other inmates who live or work in state prisons,” said Henry Bayer, executive director of Council Leadership for AFSCME. “Inmates are transferred to Tamms as a result of their own actions—brutal violence against other inmates and employees of the prison system.”

While proponents of Tamms maintain that the facility is the best place for dangerous inmates, the American Civil Liberties Union, which released a written testimony April 2 condemning the prison, argues that solitary confinement does more harm than good.

“Solitary confinement is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution and international human rights principles,” the statement said.

The question of humanity is one that surrounds the prison, according to the activists who adamantly supported the ACLU’s stance.

“You had the president [wanting to] shut down Guantanamo Bay because men who were labeled as terrorists were being treated inhumanely,” Barry said. “There’s inhumane treatment right here in the state of Illinois.”

However, AFSCME asserts that standing behind supermax prisons is the best way to ensure safety.

“Those truly concerned with inmate rights should join our effort, not push a course that will lead to more violence and instability in Illinois prisons,” Bayer said.