After receiving more criticism
from human rights organizations for failing to take immediate action,
Illinois Department of Corrections Acting Director Michael Randle
finally passed along his review
of conditions at Tamms Correctional Center to Gov. Pat Quinn last ...
After receiving more criticism from human rights organizations for failing to take immediate action, Illinois Department of Corrections Acting Director Michael Randle finally passed along his review of conditions at Tamms Correctional Center to Gov. Pat Quinn last week. Details of Randle's findings were not made available and it remains unclear when decisions about possible reforms might be made. But a spokesperson for the governor assured Lee Newspapers' Kurt Erickson that "the governor and his staff will thoroughly review the plan and make a decision on how to proceed."
Thankfully, Quinn's office isn't the only government body peeking behind the walls of the supermax lockup. Yesterday, Sen. Dick Durbin chaired a hearing in D.C. on mental illness in U.S. prisons, the first-ever domestic human rights abuse investigated by the Senate subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. According to the Belleview News-Democrat, Tamms figured prominently. Here's Durbin:
"The numbers of inmates at Tamms who were facing segregation and isolation for extraordinarily long periods of times, it's just heartbreaking," Durbin said. "I don't believe the cause of justice is being served in these cases, and I'm glad Gov. (Pat) Quinn is taking a hard look at it. I hope he comes up with a much different approach."
As Durbin correctly notes, inmates suffering from mental illness often have discipline problems in prison, which is why so many are transferred to Tamms. But the conditions at the facility, particularly the use of solitary confinement, only worsen their mental state. A bill authored last session by State Rep. Julie Hamos would have, among other reforms, prohibited prisoners with a serious mental illness from being transferred to the prison. It died in the House last session.
Durbin also critiqued the mental health treatment available to inmates, a problem brought home in a recent lawsuit filed on behalf of a former Tamms inmate. Anthony Gay is suing a Tamms psychiatrist for allegedly strapping him naked to a metal bed for up to 32 hours without food as punishment for threatening to cut himself.
Randle testified at the hearing in Washington and agreed to provide Durbin with a copy of his recommendations. It would be wise for Durbin to lean on Quinn in the interim. The sooner the governor acts, the better.