Reform Advocates Celebrate “Supermax” Tamms Prison Closing

Sidewalk dirt drawing, supporting the closure of the Tamms Supermax prison in downstate Illinois. 61st & Blackstone.Sidewalk dirt drawing, supporting the closure of the Tamms Supermax prison in downstate Illinois. 61st & Blackstone. (Photo: reallyboring)The Tamms prison in Illinois, which helped fuel a nationwide movement against solitary confinement and “supermax” prisons, shut its doors on January 4.

Prison reform advocates celebrated the closure, which they say ends more than a decade of torture for the men incarcerated inside Tamms.

“There is not a single man left behind. The era of the notorious Tamms supermax prison is over,” reads the Facebook page of Tamms Year Ten, the activist group working to close the prison. “We are going through stages of relief, disbelief, celebration and reflection.”

Operating as a “supermax,” Tamms was built to house prisoners that were considered the most dangerous. Groups including The American Civil Liberties Union found that most inmates placed into solitary confinement fared significantly worse than when they went in, and suffered from mental health issues and self-mutilation brought on by their isolation.

The closure comes after a drawn-out battle between prison reform advocates, the union and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Tamms was only one of several prisons that Quinn chose to close in a move he said would save the state $100 million a year.

The closure plan eventually overcame a lawsuit by the prison guard union and the return of line item funding to keep Tamms and other facilities open by downstate legislators in the November veto session.

Before Tamm closed, The Belleville News-Democrat estimated that 25 percent of the inmates had been held in solitary confinement since it opened, more than 10 years ago.

On January 5, the Tamms Year Ten campaign offered a report from a mother of one of the transferred inmates:

“My son called at 6:04 p.m. tonight. Things seem good at Pontiac. They were passing the phones around, and it was not an automatic cutoff. The guard came and told him his time was up. We had a wonderful visit on the phone. He and many others received their personal property on Sunday. Some have already gone out to the yard. He also had two oranges, fresh fruit! He was happy that he was given a real toothbrush and a regular pen instead of the little short ones. He said that it is the small things that matter. He is behind bars and not the steel doors and will have to adjust to the noise.”