Illinois Governor to Close Prisons

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — As part of a cost-reduction plan, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants to close a prison that opened just 14 years ago as a cutting-edge facility for the state’s most dangerous inmates.

But his plan to shutter the Tamms “supermax” lockup is raising questions about how the crowded correctional system could safely absorb its inmate population.

Tamms is an infamous prison in the state of Illinois, highly controversial and the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging prisoner abuse. It is a closed maximum custody prison, with no mess hall and prisoners all doing solitary time 23 hours a day.

Aides said the Democratic governor wants to close the southern Illinois prison and the 80-year-old lockup in Dwight in a quest to cut $100 million, which he’ll lay out Wednesday in his budget plan.

Also targeted are a half-dozen halfway houses for low-level offenders, who would be put on electronic detention and supervised by parole agents whose union says are already overtaxed.

Two juvenile detention centers and four facilities for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled also would cease operation, and human services and law enforcement operations would be consolidated in the Quinn plan.

A spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents prison and human services workers, called the prisons “irreplaceable” because Tamms houses the most dangerous inmates and Dwight is the only maximum-security facility for women.

“Closing them would trigger a dangerous domino effect, destabilizing the entire correctional system and complicating an overcrowding epidemic,” AFSCME’s Anders Lindall said.

But unlike the rest of the state’s prison system, Tamms, opened in 1998, is underused. Just 408 of the Alexander County facility’s 753 beds are occupied and because of extra security, it costs $64,000 a year to house an inmate there — three times the state average, Quinn spokeswoman Mica Matsoff said.

“Tamms is about half-full,” Quinn chief of staff Jack Lavin said Tuesday night. “We have facilities close by. … The cost per prisoner is very high, so it’s an inefficient facility.”

Tamms residents would be moved to the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center. Female inmates at Dwight would be transferred to Logan prison in Lincoln, a prison for women that also houses men. Those men would be transferred across town to Lincoln Correctional Center.

Lindall also slammed the governor’s plan to close six “adult transition centers” where inmates nearing release report at night but can work days in the community, get job training or substance-abuse treatment.

About 1,100 inmates from those centers would have to wear electronic monitoring bracelets and report to parole officers. Lindall said about 300 parole agents are already overworked monitoring 30,000 parolees.