After a lower-court injunction to block the closure was reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court Dec. 19, Gov. Pat Quinn proceeded to close the prison issuing a statement arguing Illinois’ taxpayers are the winners in the battle to shutter Tamms and other facilities throughout Illinois.
“Our state is facing unprecedented financial pressures and closing these facilities is one part of the long-term solution,” said Quinn in the release. “The next and perhaps most critical part of fixing our state’s financial problems is to pass comprehensive pension reform when the state legislature reconvenes in January.”
The battle over closing Tamms and Dwight Correctional Centers, Joliet and Murphysboro Youth Centers, and Southern Illinois and West Side (Chicago) Adult Transition Centers has raged between the State and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represent correctional workers, since Quinn first proposed the plan.
The union vowed to fight the closures and warned of an overcrowding prison system in which the closure of one of its newest facilities reserved for the “worst of the worst” was out of step with the safety of both correctional workers and inmates. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, sought and won, first a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction preventing the closures. Southern Illinois state lawmakers joined the union in an unsuccessful bid to prevent Quinn’s administration from closing the facilities.
“Within hours of the injunction being lifted, Council 31 received notice from IDOC that it intends to proceed with the closures of Tamms CC, Decatur ATC, Westside ATC and Southern ATC, effective January 5,” said AFSCME in a Dec. 19 press release. “The department indicated that no date had yet been set for the closure of Dwight CC. DJJ has informed the union that it will proceed with the closure of IYC Murphysboro effective January 4. No mention was made of IYC Joliet.”
Arguments over the closure of Tamms went a step a further than its cost or necessity as Human Rights activists cheered the announcement having opposed its isolation practices for years. Quinn, on the other hand, only pointed to cost-saving measures as reasons to close the handful of facilities he said were half-empty, costly, and unnecessary. Governor Quinn said the closures will save Illinois taxpayers an estimated $100 million a year “when combined with consolidations and [will] help restore fiscal stability to Illinois.”
Stacey Solano, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said all 294 staff members were offered other vacancies within the department.
“There were 264 employees who accepted other positions within DOC, one resigned, seven accepted vacancies at other state agencies and twenty accepted layoff,” said Solano in an email Monday. “Staff will continue to report to Tamms through the last day of operation, January, 4th.”
Solano said most inmates from the Tamms’ CMAX, or “supermax” unit were transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac with a few taken to Menard Correctional Center while the minimum security inmates were transferred to Sheridan Correctional Center.
“Illinois Department of Corrections continues to implement the closures responsibly and in a way that prioritizes public safety and security while minimizing the impact on staff and inmates,” said Solano.
The State Journal-Register filed an Associated Press report Dec. 28 indicating that the State has offered to sell Tamms, valued at $70 million, to the federal government but no “solid” plan for its future has been announced. Local lawmaker, state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who has fought alongside state senator Gary Forby and AFSCME said the closure was sad for the area and he and others would continue to fight.
“We still have an overcrowding problem. That’s the deal with this. The governor has made it worse,” said Phelps. “Eventually, some of these facilities are going to have to reopen.”