Tamms workers told to keep working past deadline

Monday, August 27, 2012
The Tamms Correctional Center is located north of Tamms, Ill. (Fred Lynch)

TAMMS, Ill. -- The scheduled closing of the Tamms Correctional Center on Friday will not take place and employees are to report to duty until further notice, according to letters sent to the 320 or so prison workers last week.

Meanwhile, a Southern Illinois judge has agreed to extend through the end of the month a halt of inmate transfers as an employee union and the state -- which intends to slash millions from its budget through the closing of Tamms and other correctional facilities like it -- work through disagreements over how safe such prisoner moves are.

"We're just trying to get into the veto session this fall and continue to fight," said Lt. Toby Oliver, a 15-year prison employee and union representative. "There's still hope that the prison can stay open. We haven't given up hope yet."

Alexander County Judge Charles Cavaness' recent ruling to extend the halt of transfers came after attorneys for the state of Illinois and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees agreed to the extension until a scheduled hearing can take place in Cairo, Ill., on Friday. A status update is scheduled via conference call Monday.

Gov. Pat Quinn is seeking to close the state's only supermax prison at Tamms, a women's lockup at Dwight and various other correction sites. Quinn has said the Tamms prison is underused and too expensive. The union asked the judge to order the state to stop inmate transfers until the union is certain it can be done safely.

But Oliver said Sunday that the workers hope the Illinois Legislature can stop the closure altogether after it convenes for the fall veto session after the Nov. 6 election.

Oliver agrees that moving the supermax prisoners, who have been described as the "worst of the worst," to lesser, older facilities is not safe. Some would be moved to Pontiac Correctional Center, he said, which was built in 1871, is not modern enough to hold them. Menard Correctional Center, another likely destination for the inmates, opened its doors in 1878.

"We have a facility here that was built in 1997 and has all the things to safely house them," Oliver said. "We've got several here that have escaped from the other facilities. They're older facilities. It's just not safe to put them there. That's what this prison was designed to do."

Quinn has been pushing to close facilities in Dwight, Carbondale, Chicago and Decatur and youth centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. The Democratic governor 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.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

8500 Supermax Road, Tamms, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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