PI Original Angela Caputo Monday August 3rd, 2009, 2:40pm

More Evidence Of The Need For Reform At Tamms

Back in May, Gov. Pat Quinn called for an examination of the policies at Tamms Correctional Center in response to criticism that prisoners are languishing there in solitary confinement -- in some cases for more than a decade -- despite its intended purpose as a short-term ...

Back in May, Gov. Pat Quinn called for an examination of the policies at Tamms Correctional Center in response to criticism that prisoners are languishing there in solitary confinement -- in some cases for more than a decade -- despite its intended purpose as a short-term incarceration facility.  Those seeking reforms at Tamms have primarily raised concerns about the lack of clear criteria for transfer in and out of the prison.  They have also pointed out that holding inmates in solitary confinement for such long periods of time often creates deep psychological trauma which can pose further problems once they're released back into their communities.

In an extensive article published over the weekend, the Belleview News-Democrat added some valuable reporting to this debate.  Included in their piece is some troubling data, such as the fact that 54 of the 247 inmates have been held there for ten years or more.  Furthermore, 55 were transferred to the facility for committing in-prison assaults "that did not lead to serious injury and can be attributed in some cases to mental illness and a need for self-protection."  The reporters also offer several case studies in how long-term solitary confinement has led to psychological deterioration in certain inmates.  They also interview the first warden at the prison:

[George] Welborn, who retired in 2002, said he never expected inmates to be held at Tamms for 10 years or more.

"I don't lose a lot of sleep over those guys who have been there 10 years ... (but) I think they should have been given the opportunity to go back to a reduced security facility and then, if they screw up again, it's right back to Tamms. It was not intended to be a place where guys would be there for eight to 10 years."

The whole article is worth a read.  Meanwhile, on the same day, the News-Democrat editorial page advocated for instituting more "smart and humane" policies at the prison:

Not only is Tamms not accomplishing its objective, but it seems to be creating new problems. Keeping inmates in solitary confinement for years causes many of them to either develop mental problems, or to worsen existing conditions. Many of these men eventually will be released back into society.

Gov. Pat Quinn has ordered Michael Randle, his new director of the state Department of Corrections, to investigate Tamms. Good. People who commit crimes deserve to be punished, but the state needs to be smart and humane on how it goes about it.

Unfortunately, if the quotes from Randle in the News-Democrat article are any indication, he doesn't appear to gung-ho about instituting significant policy changes at the facility.  If that is ultimately the case, look for some lawmakers to revive outgoing State Rep. Julie Hamos' (D-Evanston) bill to "establish clear criteria for transferring a prisoner to Tamms supermax prison."

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