Illinois agrees to temporarily halt transfer of prisoners

Thursday, August 9, 2012
The Tamms Correctional Center is north of Tamms, Ill. (Fred Lynch)

CAIRO, Ill. -- Illinois officials agreed on Wednesday not to transfer inmates from the Tamms Correctional Center and other confinement facilities until Aug. 17, which is just two weeks before the prisons and juvenile detention centers are set to close as part of a cost-savings move by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

In the meantime, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Department of Corrections are set to begin arbitrations Tuesday to give the union a chance to weigh in with its concerns about employee safety.

The news came during a two-hour hearing Wednesday in which Alexander County Judge Charles Cavaness heard arguments over the union's motion asking for a temporary restraining order to stop further steps to implement facility closures in corrections and juvenile justice. He is expected to make a ruling Aug. 17 after getting an update on any arbitration progress.

"We're very gratified with the outcome," said Eddie Caumiant, regional director of the union's Council 31 district. "What we got was the substance of the order, if not exactly what we were seeking. ... They have agreed that they will not continue what we view as a very unsafe and unfortunate plan."

The union filed a lawsuit last week to stop the shutdown of the so-called "supermax" prison in Tamms. It is seeking an injunction to halt the transfer of prisoners there and at a prison in Dwight, adult transition centers in Carbondale, Chicago and Decatur and youth centers in Joliet and Murphysboro.

Cavaness heard arguments from union lawyer Melissa Auerbach and the state's attorney, Joseph Gagliardo. Gagliardo argued the motion should be dismissed because Quinn has the support of the Illinois constitution that allows governors the authority to veto any item that reduces any state allocation.

Quinn has been pushing to close the correctional facilities, which are set to shut down at the end of the month, because he says the state can no longer afford them. Quinn used his veto pen in June to cut funding for the facilities, despite an outcry that the cuts would severely damage the economy of an already economically depressed Southern Illinois. The Tamms prison, for example, employs roughly 300 people.

Gagliardo also dismissed grievances outlined in the lawsuit as "hearsay" because they were cited by Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer. The executive director, he said, is in no position to know about the dangers of transferring the roughly 5,000 adult and youth inmates the lawsuit alleges because he doesn't work in the facilities.

After the hearing, however, Caumiant said during an impromptu news conference that the motion to dismiss is nonsense.

"Saying that it doesn't rise to the level of issuing a restraining order to keep them from moving forward is just ridiculous," Caumiant said. "We've been trying to reach the state to find out its plan from the start. We've been stonewalled and stymied all along the way. This is the process we needed to take to keep the state from implementing bad plan after bad plan."

Auerbach countered that inmates at the high-security Tamms prison have a history of assaulting staff, preying on other inmates and should not be shipped to other Illinois prisons that are ill-prepared to handle them.

Cavaness also dismissed a motion from the Uptown People's Law Center, a Chicago-based legal aid firm that represents prisoners seeking to challenge the way they are treated. Firm attorney Nicole Schult asked the judge to allow the firm, representing the inmates, to join the lawsuit, which Cavaness denied. Cavaness said the litigation was clearly a labor dispute.

After the hearing, Schult said the judge's ruling made sense, but she maintained the inmates -- as the ones to be transferred -- have a vested interested in whether Tamms closes.

"They're going to be put in dangerous situations that may not happen as a result of the transfer," she said. "We felt the inmates needed to have a say."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

8500 Supermax Road, Tamms, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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