Built in 1998 as a short-term incarceration facility for the “worst
of the worst” offenders, Tamms Correctional Center in downstate
Illinois subjects prisoners to 23 hours of solitary confinement a day
in conditions that have been compared to Guantanamo Bay. The ...
Built in 1998 as a short-term incarceration facility for the “worst of the worst” offenders, Tamms Correctional Center in downstate Illinois subjects prisoners to 23 hours of solitary confinement a day in conditions that have been compared to Guantanamo Bay. The transfer process is shrouded in secrecy, too. Prison monitoring bodies have identified more than 80 prisoners believed to have been held in the facility for at least a decade without any apparent means of gaining release. As Amnesty International notes, "many prisoners are unaware of why they have been denied requests to transfer out." Critics contend that Tamms isolates inmates for so long that they develop psychological issues which pose further problems for their communities once they're released.
The Tribune, which ran a useful inside look at Tamms in February, agrees that the facility is a harsh place. They admitted as much in an editorial yesterday. But apparently they don't want to do anything to ensure prisoners aren't left to rot at Tamms longer than they deserve.
The editorial board criticized State Rep. Julie Hamos' bill (HB 2633) to reform the facility, suggesting it would "arbitrarily limit the Corrections Department's authority to use Tamms as an option to maintain control in the prison system" and could make the entire prison system "more dangerous for guards and inmates." Here's the Tribune's summary of the bill:
The bill would limit terms at Tamms to one year in almost all cases, bar the state from transferring mentally ill inmates there and force quarterly reviews of each inmate's case. The premise behind the bill is that there are no clear rules for getting in and out of Tamms and that is unfair and psychologically damaging to prisoners.
That characterization omits a crucial detail.
While it is true that, under the bill, prisoners with a serious mental illness would not be transferred to the supermax facility and all prisoners held there would be reviewed at least every 90 days "to determine whether they should continue to be housed at that facility," it's just not the case that the measure would simply "limit terms at Tamms to one year." Freelance reporter Jessica Pupovac provides a more accurate description of the bill on her website [emphasis added]:
HB2633 would establish clear criteria for sending prisoners to Tamms from other maximum security facilities, and place a one-year limit on their time there, unless a transfer would endanger them, other inmates or prison staff.
The bill itself lays out the "endangerment" criteria:
No prisoner shall remain confined at a super-maximum security institution for more than one year, unless, at a hearing pursuant to clauses (3), (5), and (6) of this subsection (b-5) the Department (A) establishes that the prisoner, within the previous one year, has committed an act which resulted in or was likely to result in serious injury or death to another; or B) presents clear and convincing evidence, applying specific objective criteria set forth in writing by the Director or a Deputy Director that there is a significant risk that the prisoner will cause physical injury to prison staff, other prisoners, or members of the public if he or she is housed in any other facility operated by the Department, including segregation units at Level 1 facilities.
In other words, if an inmate is still considered a threat to the larger prison population after 12 months, the Department of Corrections can hold a hearing to analyze the case. If a three-person panel appointed by the DOC Director agrees with this assessment, the inmate will remain at Tamms and be reevaluated a year later. It's that simple.
Which begs the question: did the Tribune editors really read the bill?