Sunday, February 25, 2024

Tamms prison receives temporary ‘stay of execution’

Last week the employees at Tamms Correctional Center in Ullin received notice that a temporary delay in layoffs and closures would mean their employment status would remain “unchanged until further notice.”

An Aug. 23 correspondence from the Illinois Department of Corrections to its Tamms’ employees was made available to the Gazette Monday along with a statement indicating Gov. Pat Quinn’s office is still committed to the previous closure plan.

In Benton Monday, the president of the Illinois Senate, John Cullerton, joined lawmakers who oppose Quinn’s closure plans and said he supported a bill from state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, which would limit Quinn’s ability to close facilities against recommendations by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Forby issued a press release Tuesday morning saying Cullerton also supports overriding Quinn’s veto of Tamms funding, money which he says Quinn would be unable to spend elsewhere.

“Overriding the veto doesn’t force the governor to cancel the closing,” said Forby, “but it does tell him that the General Assembly is not going to let him spend that money anywhere else.”

The delay in Tamms’ Aug. 31, scheduled closing is essentially the work of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, which filed a lawsuit in Alexander County Circuit Court with arbitration proceedings beginning Aug. 14 and resulting in a temporary “freeze on inmate transfers” until Aug. 17.  That delay laid the groundwork for the current “indefinite” hold on the Tamms closure.

“We learned that the governor has indefinitely put on hold closing Tamms and other state prisons because of ongoing labor disputes abut the issue,” said Forby in his press release Tuesday.   Forby said the IDOC was ordered to stop moving inmates until the union’s lawsuit was resolved.  “The governor has finally given in to reason and admitted that he can’t transfer or layoff workers or close the prison if he can’t move the inmates to other prisons.”

Currently, there are approximately 245 inmates remaining in Tamms, both those being held in the minimum security unit and the CMAX unit, according to IDOC spokeswoman Stacey Solano, who said the state remains committed to the closure plan and is moving forward with an expedited arbitration with AFSCME to facilitate the closures.

“As we continue arbitration under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the department has notified employees impacted by the closures to continue work in their current position and location while the arbitration proceeds, until further notice,” said Solano in an email to the Gazette Monday.

As closure plans were organized, employees were said to be given an opportunity to continue employment with the state in other positions should they choose, and while most chose other positions roughly 25 to 30 chose a layoff package, according to a Tamms employee speaking off the record.  Solano confirmed this on Monday saying that every impacted DOC employee was indeed given an opportunity to continue employment with the state.

Many of the positions available will require the relocation of much of the Tamms’ staff, which is at the heart of the issue creating a “crushing effect” on the local economy should that population leave the area.  Forby and state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, have joined each other on several occasions in issuing press releases blasting the governor’s decision to move forward on the closures.

In his release Tuesday, Forby said the “indefinite” hold was “good news” in this struggle to prevent further unemployment in an already struggling Southern Illinois county.