House Bill 210, a bill to reopen and reorganize the Tamms Correctional Facility, has moved to the Illinois Senate floor for consideration after passing the Illinois House unanimously, excluding five excused absences.
Illinois representatives Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) and Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) co-sponsored the bill, which was first introduced into the Illinois House Dec. 21, 2018. Representative Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) also signed on to sponsor the bill.
If it is approved by the Senate, the established task force will publish their findings by Dec. 31, 2020.
According to a press release, Windhorst said the task force will include two members of the House and Senate, the Director of Corrections and a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
It would also include an appointee of the President of Shawnee Community College, an appointee of the President of SIU, the Mayor of Tamms and a member of the Alexander County board.
“Reopening Tamms’ minimum-security facility could help alleviate overcrowding, make our correctional officers safer and provide good paying jobs to an area that has been economically devastated,” Windhorst said in the release.
Bryant said she has been a strong advocate for reopening the minimum security facility in Tamms since before she took office.
“There are very powerful forces that closed the supermax, and I want everyone to know that this Task Force will not be studying reopening the supermax,” Bryant said.
Tamms Correctional Facility was Illinois’ only supermax prison and was shut down by Governor Pat Quinn in 2012.
Quinn cited the budget as his reason for closing down Tamms; however, the facility closed amid concerns over its treatment of inmates and backlash from Amnesty International and other human rights groups.
Two of the current barriers facing the reopening of the prison include the human rights abuse accusations and the facility’s mold infestation.
Tamms was originally designed as a supermax facility with the goal of making complete isolation and sensory deprivation possible.
Gary Marx, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was able to visit Tamms in 2009 and said for at least 23 hours a day, prisoners sat in solitary confinement in 7-by-12-foot cells.
“There is no mess hall — meals are shoved through a chuckhole in cell doors. Contact with the outside world is sharply restricted,” Marx said. “For a rare visit from relatives or friends, inmates are strip-searched, chained to a concrete stool and separated from visitors by a thick glass wall. There are no jobs and limited educational opportunities.”
One of the individuals affected by Tamms solitary confinement practices was Anthony Gay, an inmate who developed mental health issues while in prison and rather than receiving proper care was kept in solitary confinement.
(See more: Originally charged for stealing a hat and $1, Anthony Gay released after 22 years of solitary confinement)
Solitary confinement is condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It has been shown to severely impact the mental health of inmates.
In response to inquiry about Gay’s treatment, the Illinois Department of Corrections said they remain focused on ensuring mentally ill men and women receive the necessary treatment.
The department also said they are implementing new programs to improve outcomes for mentally ill inmate rehabilitation.
If the bill passes, in order to reopen the prison, the task force would have to overcome the stigma surrounding the facility and develop a plan to successfully reopen and operate it as a minimum security facility.
Staff reporter Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.
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