Elections, Grassroots Efforts Reignite Tamms Debate

ALEXANDER COUNTY, Ill. — Several Illinois residents are actively working to reopen the shuttered Tamms Correctional Center, also referred to as Tamms Supermax, in Alexander County. The super maximum-security facility was closed in January 2013 by then Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Chicago) in an effort to trim costs.

Opponents of Quinn’s decision have since argued that the closure has directly contributed to overcrowding at the facilities that absorbed the former Tamms inmates and has led to unsafe working conditions for correctional officers. They also point to the loss of approximately 300 jobs across the region.

The newly elected Terri Bryant, a Republican who will soon be representing the state’s 115th district, has spoken out in support of reopening Tamms. After working for two decades in the Pickneyville Correctional Center, Bryant would like to see Tamms reopen as a transitional facility with strict segregation standards that allow inmates to transition in and out depending on behavior.

“The things I think that I can do is show that I actually have knowledge about what goes on in the department,” Bryant told KFVS TV earlier this month. “So, when we have conversations about why we have the need for Tamms, it goes a little bit further than what other legislators have been able to do. Nobody will be able to spin me when it comes to Tamms.”

Meanwhile, Alexander County resident Marsha Griffin founded the organization My Brother’s Keeper in an effort to highlight the safety threats posed to correctional officers in the state’s increasingly crowded prisons. Griffin, who has several familial ties to the Department of Corrections and is the wife of a previous Tamms employee, is publicizing the effort via door-to-door petitioning throughout the southern Illinois region. This adds to her online efforts, which have garnered more than 2,300 signatures thus far.

However, Illinois Department of Corrections Spokesperson Tom Shaer told The Southern that closing Tamms has not resulted in an increase in violent incidents, rather, that a department-wide zero tolerance policy against inmate disobedience actually contributed to a 35 percent decrease in these incidents in the past fiscal year.

However, the ACLU and other social and religious organizations continue to support the closure. “Tamms…symbolized the ever more punitive, dehumanizing, and ineffective state of our criminal justice system where entire institutions are built to hold prisoners in extreme solitary confinement,” Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, wrote on the organization’s blog shortly after the facility closed. Fettig called the closure “a major victory” and added that closing the facility would save state taxpayers millions in operational expenses.
Currently, the state has no plans to reopen the facility and governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R-Winnetka) has not spoken about the issue.