Here's an interesting statistic that came out recently: Nearly a quarter of the people in Tamms -- Illinois' super-maximum-security Downstate prison -- are more than 50 years old.
The 14-year-old prison was designed to house the "worst of the worst" of Illinois inmates. But one of the critiques is that once an inmate is there, it's hard to get out. So even after someone no longer should be considered among the "worst of the worst," they're still there, running up costs for the state. It's one of the reasons Gov. Pat Quinn wants to shut the place down to save money. His budget would close 14 state facilities, including Tamms, to save money.
Laurie Jo Reynolds, lead organizer of Tamms Year Ten, speaks Wednesday at a noon James R. Thompson rally by ex-prisoners and relatives of Tamms inmates prior to a march to AFSCME headquarters. (Sun-Times photo)
Relatives of Tamms inmates held a noon press conference today at Chicago's James R. Thompson Center in support of the plan to close the facility, where they called the facility inhumane for keeping prisoners in isolation for 23 hours a day.
Laurie Jo Reynolds, lead organizer of Tamms Year Ten, called Tamms "a human rights disaster."
From the Thompson Center, they planned to march to the headquarters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 headquarters at Michigan and State.
There have been attempts to tweak prison policy for years. But this session, the Illinois General Assembly is going to take a crack at comprehensive prison reform, including the way prisoners are classified for maximum or minimum security. We'll see how that affects Tamms and other prisons, prison policy, public safety and the Illinois budget.
Advocates for closing Tamms chartered a bus and took about 50 people Downstate Monday to a meeting of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. Downstate legislators and labor unions have been mounting a strong campaign to protect jobs by keeping the prisons open.
"it was a rough experience for us," said one attendee. "There were about 200 union poeple. We all love and respect unions - the signs we carried were union shop signs - but they heckled mothers who were giving testimony and ex-prisoners [including one who was wrongfully convicted]. We were kind of shocked by the treatment."
A cell block at the Tamms Correctional Center (AP photo)
Other witnesses included human rights representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
The Associated Press reported that an economic impact statement said closing Tamms would mean 295 state employee layoffs -- and a ripple effect of 43 jobs lost in the community.
On Wednesday, marchers held signs saying, "I am a mom," "I am a man," "My brother is not a paycheck," "Torture is a crime, not a career" and other phrases.
The "I am a mom" and "I am a man" signs echoed "I am a man" signs carried when Dr. Martin Luther King helped campaign for the rights of sanitation workers in Memphis. April 4 is the 44th anniversary of King's assassination in Memphis.
Groups that were scheduled to be involved in Wednesday's march included Tamms Year Ten, Amnesty International and Occupy Chicago.
Maine, Colorado and Mississippi have closed their "supermax" prisons already.
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