Tamms to close by end of next week, officials say

Thursday, December 27, 2012

TAMMS, Ill. -- During the past week, corrections officer Sidney Miller has watched the exodus of Tamms prison take place in increments.

Twenty-five of the so-called "worst of the worst" offenders were the first to leave Dec. 20, and the same number followed Friday. Saturday saw another 40 prisoners brought out, some one-by-one, they are considered so dangerous.

By Monday, 124 more had been transported the roughly 300 miles north to Pontiac Correctional Center, as Illinois officials have quickly made good on Gov. Pat Quinn's promise to close several correctional centers to rein in spending. By Monday, just 12 inmates remained at the supermax prison and another 48 in the prison's minimum-security unit.

"They're shipping out pretty fast," Miller said. "It's frustrating to us. There's no reason they had to close down Tamms. They say it's about money, but it's been mostly about politics."

Miller, who has worked at the prison since 2007, said the closure has made for one depressing holiday season for him and the other employees who are either out work or must commute great distances to keep their jobs. Miller of Olive Branch, Ill., for example, now must drive three hours a day to get to his new job at Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Ill.

"We just fought this thing tooth and nail," Miller said. "It's sad. People have uprooted families. Some don't have jobs. I think it sucks."

Quinn ordered the transfers after an Alexander County judge Dec. 19 lifted the injunction that was blocking the closure of the Tamms prison and six other Illinois correctional centers.

Miller's union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had filed a lawsuit to stop the shutdown, but the Illinois Supreme Court overruled them, ordering Judge Charles C. Cavaness to lift his injunction.

The Illinois Department of Corrections anticipates that the last day of operations at Tamms will be Jan. 4, said department spokeswoman Stacey Solano. The remaining inmates will be moved between now and then, she said. All of the staff, more than 900 statewide, have been offered other vacancies within the agency, she said. About 100 chose to be laid off rather than take those positions.

"The transfer of inmates and subsequent closure of these facilities will continue to be managed appropriately," Solano said in an email. The department will move forward, she added, in a "thoughtful and responsible" manner that keeps public safety and security at the forefront.

As for Miller, he's clinging to hope that the Tamms prison may reopen. He's heard rumors. He will start his long drives to work Jan. 7 after the department gives him a weekend off.

Tamms opened in 1998 and housed dangerous criminals who could not be housed in the state's other facilities that had general population. The prisoners were largely kept isolated and allowed out of their cells just one hour a day, which prompted some to criticize it and call for its closure. Some who argued for it to close said it was not needed and was underutilized.

Miller, for now, sees it as the loss of jobs in a part of Illinois that's already financially hurting.

"Why even build it just to close it a few years later?" he said. "It doesn't make any sense to me."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Tamms, Ill.

Map of pertinent addresses

Comments
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: