CHICAGO – Illinois prison officials are moving quickly to empty the high-security Tamms prison – once home to hundreds of inmates called “the worst of the worst” – and other facilities slated to be closed early next month.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano said Monday that 124 inmates have been moved from Tamms to segregation units at Pontiac Correctional Center since Thursday. As of Monday, 12 inmates remained in Tamms’ single-cell isolation area and 48 others were still housed in the prison’s minimum-security unit.
All residents also have been moved out of three halfway houses targeted for closing, Solano said.
Gov. Pat Quinn ordered the transfers after a judge on Wednesday lifted an injunction blocking the shutdowns.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents correctional workers, had sued to stop the closings. But the Illinois Supreme Court ordered a judge in Alexander County, where Tamms is located, to lift the injunction.
The facilities are scheduled to be shuttered by Jan. 4.
“The transfer of inmates and subsequent closure of these facilities will continue to be managed appropriately,” Solano said. “[Illinois Department of Corrections] continues to implement the closures in a thoughtful and responsible manner that prioritizes public safety and security while minimizing the impact on staff and inmates.”
Tamms, in far southern Illinois, opened in 1998 as the state’s “supermax” prison, where gang leaders and other inmates who caused problems in general population could be housed. Prisoners were isolated from one another and kept in their cells 23 hours a day – a practice that drew criticism for being too harsh.
Quinn targeted Tamms and six other facilities for closure as a way to save money for the cash-strapped state, saying the space was underutilized. The other facilities were a women’s lockup in Dwight; adult inmate transition centers in Chicago, Carbondale and Decatur and juvenile centers in Murphysboro and Joliet.
The transfers actually started in August, when eight Tamms inmates were moved. But the process was put on hold that same day, after AFSCME filed its lawsuit. The union argued, among other things, that the closings would endanger correctional employees, inmates and the public because the statewide system – with facilities designed for 33,700 inmates – has more than 49,000.
The lifting of the injunction on Wednesday allowed the transfers to continue, though AFSCME still is pushing in Alexander County court to reverse an arbitrator’s decree that states Quinn followed contract rules when he ordered the closures.
Employees at the targeted facilities are being moved to new jobs at other facilities. AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said affected staff has been told to report to their new locations on Jan. 7.
The minimum-security Tamms inmates are being moved to Sheridan Correctional Center, Solano said. Residents of the West Side Adult Transition Center in Chicago have been moved to North Lawndale and Crossroads centers, also in Chicago. Those in the Southern Illinois Adult Transition Center in Carbondale the Decatur center are going to halfway houses in either Peoria or Chicago.
The closing date has not been determined for Dwight. The Illinois Youth Center at Murphysboro has been empty since July, and 138 youth at the Joliet facility will be moved to centers in St. Charles, Harrisburg and possibly Kewanee, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice has said.