Closing the state's toughest prison has more than budget implications.
Democratic legislators who thought they had a deal with Gov. Pat Quinn to keep two state prisons open are sputtering with rage over what they regard as a double-cross.
Despite having sufficient money in the state budget, Quinn announced this week that he'll close the women's prison in Dwight and, more importantly, the super-maximum facility in Tamms, where the state's most dangerous inmates are held.
State Sen. Gary Forby, a Democrat of Benton, was so angry that he started sputtering foolishly about separating Chicago from the State of Illinois.
"You know, I'm not real sure, I've been hearing it for a long time, 'Why don't we do away with Chicago?' You know, I'm just about there. I'm about ready to just cut 'em off and push 'em right out into the water. I mean, put Pat Quinn on the nose of the boat. Put him right on the nose of the boat, all right, and push him right out into the water," said Forby.
Secession, of course, is not in the cards. But Forby is correct to be concerned about closing Tamms, although not just because of lost jobs in an already economically depressed area of the state.
The issue of closing state prisons, particularly Tamms, has been cast as a budget and economics issue. That misdirection has obscured what's really at play here.
Quinn has not been forthright about this issue, but it reflects a dispute over the philosophy of incarceration.
Prison-rights advocates object to super-maximum prisons because of their cruel and dehumanizing features, like keeping prisoners in cells for 23 hours a day and limiting their social contact with others. Quinn agrees, or at least wants prison-rights advocates to think he agrees, so he's closing Tamms.
The highly dangerous inmates held there will be transferred to other facilities, where they will be allowed considerably more freedom of movement in a less secure prison setting.
Obviously, prison employees and other inmates will be at greater risk because of the presence of the super-predators who soon will be in their midst.
Quinn is rolling the dice here. Super-max prisons are incredibly harsh by design. They were built to take the worst of the worst from other facilities and immobilize them. With the exception of convicted sex offenders held there to protect them from other inmates, Tamms inmates are incredibly dangerous. Many are serving such long sentences that, now that the death penalty has been repealed, they have nothing to lose by killing a prison employee or another inmate. The crimes they commit behind bars are freebies.
No one should be under any illusions about the ugly possibilities created by the closing of Tamms. Quinn is embracing misguided compassion for demonstrably dangerous people that will come at the expense of prison employees and other inmates.
The state's prisons already are overcrowded. Inserting Tamms' inmates into this already combustible mix is asking for trouble. If and when the explosion comes — whether it's a full-scale riot or a murder — no one can credibly express surprise.