Union sues to stop Tamms prison shutdown

Friday, August 3, 2012
The Tamms Correctional Center is located north of Tamms, Ill. (Fred Lynch)

TAMMS, Ill. -- A union representing corrections employees filed a lawsuit Thursday in Alexander County to stop the shutdown of Tamms Correctional Center and other confinement facilities, saying such closures will worsen the prison system's overcrowding and put the lives of its members in danger because of "inappropriate inmate transfers."

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 1.6 million members nationwide and is Illinois' largest employee union, is seeking an injunction to halt the closing of prisons in the Illinois towns of Tamms and Dwight, adult transition centers in Carbondale, Chicago and Decatur, and youth centers in Joliet and Murphysboro.

Gov. Pat Quinn has been pushing to close the correctional facilities because he says the state can no longer afford them. Quinn used his veto pen to cut funding for several such facilities in the region, despite actions by the legislature to keep them open.

According to a union news release, the lawsuit details grievances over the threat to employee safety posed by a "rushed" transfer of 5,000 inmates to other prisons that are ill-equipped to cope. Quinn's plan calls for having the facilities shut down by the end of the month, including the nearly 300-employee supermax prison in Tamms that is less than 15 years old.

"Inmates are being sent to facilities too crowded, too short of staff or lacking appropriate security features to safely incarcerate them," Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said. "We are seeking an injunction to prevent the state from moving forward with any closure until the related grievances have been resolved."

Brooke Anderson, press secretary to the Democratic governor, responded in an email to the Southeast Missourian that the union is not just misguided, it's wrong. The closures, all set for Aug. 31, are being done in full compliance with the collective bargaining agreements and in a manner that ensures the safety of employees, inmates and residents, she said in the email. Anderson said the governor has offered to properly hear the union's grievance on an expedited basis.

The closure of the facilities will save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually, she said. Tamms, for example, is only half full and "very costly" to operate with an average inmate cost of more than three times of any other prison in the state, she said.

But the union doesn't see it that way. The 5,000 inmates and youths that are to be moved include some who have been intentionally segregated because of the danger they pose to guards and other inmates.

"The insertion of these inmates into the overcrowded prisons of the state will inevitably foment unrest that will put employees, other inmates, and the general community at risk," the lawsuit says.

Added Bayer: "The Quinn administration is failing its duty to ensure a safe workplace for its employees. Instead, it is sending men and women to work each day in prisons that the state's own actions are making more dangerous."

With 293 employees, Tamms is a significant employer in the region. According to the state Department of Corrections, the facility is costing $25.6 million this year. Following the governor's veto reduction in revenue, only $5 million has been slated for the facility's operation in 2013.

Attempts to reach comments from employees of the prison in Tamms were unsuccessful.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

8500 Supermax Road, Tamms, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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