Slamming door on Tamms
The state prison for the "worst of the worst" is being shuttered.
It's only a matter of a few days before the supermax state prison at Tamms in downstate Illinois is officially closed, a decision driven by a combination of financial and humanitarian decisions.
More than 130 inmates were moved out of the prison in just nine days, according to state prison officials, with the final five transerred to segregation units at the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center on Friday.
Gov. Pat Quinn has characterized his decision to close the facility as one driven by the state's desperate financial situation. He contends, correctly, that the state has to find ways to cut spending and that closing state-run facilities is one way to do so.
There's no arguing with that.
But Quinn has declined to acknowledge another clear motive on his part.
He's been convinced by inmate advocates that being held at Tamms is simply too cruel a punishment to inflict on any inmate, no matter how badly the inmate has behaved in prison.
There's no denying that Tamms is brutal. Inmates are held in isolation cells 23 hours a day and mostly denied human contact.
Critics have suggested that type of confinement has caused severe mental illness in some inmates, and it probably has.
But Tamms, which has room sections for minimum security inmates as well as super-maximum security inmates, was opened in the 1990s specifically to control inmates thought to pose the highest security risk.
Tamms did what it was assigned to do — neutralizing dangerous inmates and making the institutions from which they were transferred safer.
It's a virtual certainty that closing Tamms as well as a handful of other state correctional facilities will save money.
But there's no guarantee that former Tamms' inmates won't increase safety risks at their new locales. How could they not?
Quinn's decision reflects a balancing of priorities.
But it's a risky business, and there's no guarantee his decision will work out the way he hopes it will.