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Sheila Simon concerned about Tamms prison closure

Friday, Mar 2, 2012

* Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon was on WBEZ yesterday and was asked about Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close several state facilities. Simon said she was concerned about the plan to close the Tamms “super max” prison in far southern Illinois. Listen…

While Simon acknowledge that there were “humanitarian reasons” to close the facility, she said the state needed to look at the public safety angle, and she talked about jobs…

In particular, that’s an area where there are lot of good jobs in an area where there are few good jobs.

Once a southern Illinoisan, always a southern Illinoisan.

* Meanwhile, as we discussed the other day, the governor wants to cut $14.7 million from parole staffing lines, which is a 50 percent reduction. The AP analyzed all the numbers and concluded the cut would result in 148 parole-office jobs being eliminated. But the Department of Corrections refuses to confirm or deny that number and instead initially claimed that no layoffs would happen and that the budget book was in error. “It is not a reduction in parole headcount,” the department told the AP. “It is not the governor’s intention to reduce parole staff.”

Then, the explanation shifted. Corrections admitted that some field positions would be eliminated, then claimed that services would not be cut, then said that attrition would play a role in the reductions.

To the AP

The changes would be part of a 9 percent cut to the $1.2 billion prison system Quinn proposes in the fiscal year that begins in July. He would close two maximum-security prisons and six “adult transition centers” which help inmates nearing completion of sentences get ready to re-enter communities.

But there are already far more inmates than there is bed space in the state’s prisons, so the 1,100 residents of those work-release centers would largely be released and fitted with electronic monitoring bracelets, increasing workloads for parole officers and, some fear, reducing opportunities for ex-offenders to get schooling or drug-abuse treatment. […]

In addition to six adult transition centers with space for more than 1,000, Quinn’s plan is to close a nearly new but underused supermaximum-security prison at Tamms and a women’s lockup at Dwight, sacrificing nearly 2,000 more beds.

That’s key because Corrections has said most transition-center residents would go home with electronic supervision, but AFSCME’s Lindall reports that parole officers estimate only about half of them would qualify, meaning 500 or more would have to return to prison to compete for already-precious space that would shrink with more closures.

* And make no mistake, the prisons are crowded. From John Howard Association executive director John Maki

In recent visits to the Vandalia and Vienna correctional centers, for instance, the John Howard Association found inmates in conditions that rival California’s prisons. These facilities were so crowded that administrators had no choice but to house hundreds of minimum-security inmates in flooded basements and vermin-infested dormitories with broken windows, leaking pipes and dilapidated roofs.

* In other news, the closure dates for some facilities may not be hard and fast, according to Illinois Statehouse News

The Illinois Department of Human Services has contracted with Derrick Dufresne and Michael Mayer, two senior partners in the developmental disabilities consulting firm Community Resource Alliance, to lead the transition of the Jacksonville center’s residents.

Dufresne and Mayer spearheaded a three-year project in North Carolina to move the state from institutional-centric developmental-disability care to a smaller, community-based care.

A 2010 report, written by the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University after the North Carolina project ended, could foreshadow some of the problems the closure of Jacksonville.

“When organizational change happens too quickly without the creation of a strong foundation, there is a risk that the community supports will be created that are not truly individualized, that do not include adequate organizational and community support, and that do not offer increased control and choice to the individual,” the report said.

Neither Dufresne nor Mayer was available for comment.

Casey said community centers have “significant” waiting lists. The plan submitted by Mayer and Dufresne on February to DHS for closing the Jacksonville site echoes the lack of space in current community-based facilities.

“Among the numerous challenges faced in this process is … developing services and supports which will be necessary for long-term success and which do not currently exist in many locations,” the plan said.

Casey insists the governor’s budget allots enough money to help develop the community-based services needed to absorb people from the state centers.

Adding to the bottleneck is a proposal to have each of the residents’ individualized plans reviewed by Mayer and again by Casey before being approved, according to Illinois Department of Human Services’ documents.

The review is to ensure residents get placed in the proper environment, the documents said.

With all of these factors at play, Quinn’s office is now vacillating on the closure dates for eight state facilities, including Jacksonville, it originally set.

“All the closure dates for the rebalancing (of where developmentally disabled receive care) are approximate. It’s important to set a goal so that you’re working towards a target, but the safety and well-being of the residents absolutely comes first,” Brie Callahan, a spokeswoman for Quinn, said.

* Related…

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* Treasurer: Illinois has no investment ties to Iran: The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago played a key role in the passage of a 2007 Iran divestment law in Illinois. Jay Tcath of the group says the law required the state’s pension funds to divest from Iran, but there was no such obligation placed upon state funds managed by the treasurer’s office.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Deep South - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 9:08 am:

    ===Once a southern Illinoisan, always a southern Illinoisan.===

    Oh, dear God….

  2. - wordslinger - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 9:26 am:

    You don’t build and maintain prisons as a jobs program. A little more vision, please.

  3. - Kerfuffle - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 9:31 am:

    So let me get this straight: PQ wants to close prisons but will have to release inmates early so as to avoid overcrowding at the remaining prisons but will also reduce parole staff because somehow the increased number of prisons on parole will require fewer people to monitor them? Do I have that right?

  4. - Shore - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 9:34 am:

    what wordslinger said.

    adding a 4th year of math is a great idea.

  5. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 9:38 am:

    - adding a 4th year of math is a great idea. -

    No kidding, maybe in a generation our politicians will have a little better grasp of numbers.

  6. - Robert - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 9:47 am:

    great article by John O’Connor of AP- especially enjoyed the way he closed it by printing 5 contradictory explanations.

    Gov. Quinn, you don’t have to go all Mitt Romney and enjoy it, but cost savings occur with headcount reductions. And if you are cutting the number of incarcerated but increasing the number of ankle monitored, uh, that means you should need fewer people working in the prisons but a few more people working the tv screens watching the ankle monitored.

  7. - Motambe - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 9:55 am:

    Regarding Lt. Gov. Simon’s comments: having been involved in economic development in southern Illinois for more than 20 years, some of us remember that repeatedly we have been told by representatives of certain state agencies and the governor’s office that state economic development efforts in southern Illinois will not focus on luring industry and manufacturing, but rather on recreation, tourism, and corrections. That is why the DOC cuts and the IDNR cuts appear to be such a betrayal to the residents in the south.

  8. - 3rd Generation Chicago Native - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 9:59 am:

    Simon is concerned about the plan to close the Tamms.

    What has been on the Chicago News is the Mayor of Dwight, the other facility set to close and how it will impact his area. He goes on about the jobs, the stores, the restaurants, the gas stations, everything. I feel bad for Dwight because of how the Mayor has talked about the economic devistation it many cause.
    Anytime you close any facility where there are not a lot of other venues, businesses etc around for a small town it does affect them quite significantly.

  9. - justbabs - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:12 am:

    As I heard it, the rest of Simon’s statement is that it may very well need to be closed, and if that is in the best interest of the state - close it. Suggesting that a thorough review take place does sound like “sound vision” to me. Finally, a little less knee-jerk reaction and lot more policy. I’ll take that.

  10. - J.Mom - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:14 am:

    Heard a similar broadcast on WSUI radio. And it is just pretty amazing to hear her concede that there are real humanitarian concerns at Tamms, and that the IDOC has said there are a large number at Tamms who don’t fit the maximum security prisoner classification, and that all can be safely housed at Pontiac–and yet, despite all that, Simon still suggests the place should potentially be kept open because it’s a large job provider in an otherwise under-employed part of the state. It’s just the most blatant statement I’ve heard yet, saying what I think others are ashamed to say openly. I am sorry for Alexander County. There needs to be a better/different economic engine down there besides an inhumane institution that the state seems to be admitting it does not really need.

  11. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:15 am:

    ‘vermin infested dormitories’

    There is no way to exterminate the vermin? Really?

    I agree with the sentiment that prison jobs should not be considered a jobs program.

  12. - cassandra - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:19 am:

    I’m disappointed in Simon. She appears to be saying that the state should continue to run Tamms, by many accounts a human rights disaster, because good jobs in the area would be lost otherwise. Amazing. My opinion of her, previously positive, just dropped to the floor.

    If the reason we might keep Tamms open is the resulting loss of jobs in the area, let’s send DCEO down there to develop some private sector
    options. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do, in the absence of successful local business initiatives. I haven’t heard of any layoffs at DCEO. They’ve got the staff.

  13. - state worker - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:19 am:

    Why isn’t anyone calling out these downstate legislators for 1) not fighting harder for downstate economic development 2) spending their time pushing for conceal carry instead of doing something meaningful for the region and 3) not lifting a finger to reform Tamms when they had the chance.

    Downstate does need jobs but working as a correctional officer is not an entitlement program. And Sheila Simon should know it.

  14. - Downstate Illinois - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:23 am:

    Rich, that should be a capital “S” in Southern Illinoisan. We’re definitely a distinct region.

  15. - 47th Ward - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:34 am:

    ===We’re definitely a distinct region.===

    I believe that should be Distinct Region, at least until it breaks away from northern Illinois and forms its own state of Southern Illinois. Until then, maybe we should use all caps, then it would be liking shouting it out loud.

    Say it loud and say it proud.

  16. - MrJM - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:40 am:

    Framing the imprisonment of citizens as a jobs program is grotesque.

    Simply grotesque.

    – MrJM

  17. - beserkr29 - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:45 am:

    Adding a 4th year of math is a horrible idea. It’s entirely unnecessary and, frankly, will have little impact on the success or failure of anyone as they get to college. Adding a 4th year will only further torture those who have no interest in it. Why add another barrier to kids trying to better themselves by going to college? Especially if they have no desire to enter a field that has anything to do with engineering, physics or other math-related fields? 4 years of math isn’t going to make a person study for tests, go to class every day or do homework. Teaching kids to perform lengthy geometric proofs isn’t going to help them think critically, write better or develop interpersonal skills for the workplace. Just looks good in the papers.

  18. - OurMagician - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 10:51 am:

    If there only had been a bill on the governor’s desk to generate revenue without raising taxes to prevent some closings…..

  19. - Shock & Awww(e) - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:08 am:


    Exactly. PQ’s idea is actually dangerous on 3 fronts:

    1.) PQ wants to close prisons while also reducing parole staff. This endangers civilian safety.

    2.) Closing Tamms would relocate the “worst of the worst” prisoners to other, already overcrowded prisons (namely Pontiac). This endangers guard and prisoner safety.

    3.) PQ’s proposal runs the risk of us facing a California type lawsuit, wherein the Supreme Court is forcing the penitentiary system to remove 46,000 inmates from their rolls in 2 years due to overcrowding. The court held that this sort of overcrowding endangers the safety and basic human rights of prisoners.

    This was the source of Mr. Maki’s reference comparing Illinois prisons to California prisons.

    This is obviously a logical, well considered plan, right? Of course it is - just like everything else in Illinois.

    PQ for the trifecta!

  20. - John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:11 am:

    Framing the imprisonment of citizens as a jobs program is pragmatic.

  21. - Shore - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:11 am:

    beserk29. A little calculus BC never hurt anyone. AP Calculus also enables kids if they pass the test to test out of undergrad requirements and to lower the lost of higher education. Schools are for learning, not making new friends to facebook.
    Geometic proofs are freshman year math. That’s basic education.

    Prison reform as had been discussed here a few years ago had been one of the few issues that liberals and conservatives at least in some quarters in dc had been able to build momentum on doing. I think Senator Webb of Virginia had been a real champion of it.

  22. - Just Observing - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:13 am:

    === Adding a 4th year of math is a horrible idea. It’s entirely unnecessary and, frankly, will have little impact on the success or failure of anyone as they get to college. Adding a 4th year will only further torture those who have no interest in it. Why add another barrier to kids trying to better themselves by going to college? Especially if they have no desire to enter a field that has anything to do with engineering, physics or other math-related fields? 4 years of math isn’t going to make a person study for tests, go to class every day or do homework. Teaching kids to perform lengthy geometric proofs isn’t going to help them think critically, write better or develop interpersonal skills for the workplace. Just looks good in the papers. ===


  23. - wordslinger - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:25 am:

    –Framing the imprisonment of citizens as a jobs program is pragmatic

  24. - state worker - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:25 am:

    What JHA and commenters have failed to recognize is that it is the LEGISLATORS who ended MGT and caused overcrowding to skyrocket. Quinn actually tried to do something about it and got burned at the stake.

    Word is that legislators in both parties are too wimped out to take it on. Perhaps we should complain to them because we do not have the money for all the jobs AFSCME and downstate legislators want.

    That said, Tamms is the one prison that could be closed without affecting overcrowding. And, I can’t help but chuckle that Sheila Simon is concerned that Death Row at Pontiac isn’t tough enough. No one was complaining it wasn’t secure enough when the death row prisoners were there.

  25. - RetiredStateEmployee - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:30 am:

    If you want to reduce the prison population, you have to eliminate the prohibition laws. They haven’t worked for close to 100 years now. When will we (as a country) learn? Closing prisons with no plan just seems nuts!

  26. - Secret Square - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:40 am:

    OT but important for anyone in S. Ill: Saline County is under a tornado warning AGAIN and there are more VERY dangerous storms entering S. Ill. as we speak. Another tornado outbreak may be underway…

  27. - Shemp - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:47 am:

    From an older Tribune article, “No inmate is sentenced directly to Tamms. To get there, someone already in prison must commit sexual assault or attempt a violent act that results in death or serious injury. An inmate also can earn a trip to Tamms if he tries to escape or frequently disrupts prison operations. That can include running an organized gang, possessing a weapon or engaging in other illegal activity.” Is it so bad to keep these folks sequestered from the rest of society?

    Shuttering prisons can be done, but shouldn’t be done for the wrong reasons. We can loosen parole supervision, close prisons, shut down facilities for the impaired, but we can’t clamp down on pensions, legislative scholarships (small, but indicative), post retirement health care, collective bargaining rules, state wages, costly DOL rules, work comp or consider changes to sales tax (either add services or up the rate) etc.

  28. - bartelby - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 11:58 am:

    Another reason prisons should not be treated as jobs programs is that they are BAD jobs programs. Many of the products and services come from big corporations (Aramark for example), who ship their goods from far away, and thus make no impact on local businesses and communities. If you want a jobs program, try hiring local people — using local suppliers — to build schools, roads and parks. Hire educated people in the communities to educate others for new jobs, and invest in tourist and green industries. Prisons like Tamms are a bad investment from a corrections AND an economic perspective.

  29. - mokenavince - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 12:09 pm:

    If we make cuts of say 10% per for as many years as necessary we could keep most of our prisons. Chopping with wacks of 50% is just nuts. There are better ways reducing spending and keeping these prisons open.

  30. - Tom Social Worker - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 12:37 pm:

    Shemp: An investigative report from the BND found that over half of the men sent to Tamms had never committed a crime in a regular prison, and many of the rest were mentally ill (and presumably were sent for being disruptive). There are undoubtedly more people in Pontiac who fit your description. It is a segregation-only prison for people who commit crimes in other prisons. I think one prison like that is enough.

  31. - Tom Social Worker - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 12:39 pm:

    Also, a Federal judge (from Southern Illinois) found that every man sent to Tamms was entitled to due process to contest their transfer and that none had been given it. He also found that Tamms causes lasting mental damage to people, even after they are transferred to regular prisons or released, as many of them will be. That’s not a good jobs program.

  32. - Anonymous - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 12:55 pm:

    ‘A 2010 report, written by the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University after the North Carolina project ended, could foreshadow some of the problems the closure of Jacksonville.’

    Nice report. Go read it. Four organizations were able to move 35 people from group homes or ICFMR facilities into apartments over 3 years of effort. That’s 12 a years. These are relatively high functioning people. How many millions did this cost? And Illinois wants to move 186 from JDC and 200 something from Murray. This could take awhile.

  33. - Watchdogged - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 1:23 pm:

    @Shemp… Here’s a correction published at the time to The Tribune’s mistaken statement on who gets sent to Tamms.

    “The criteria named by the Tribune do not correspond to the Illinois Administrative Code about the supermax. Although the code does indicate that violent acts, escape attempts, and other disruptions are reasons to be sent to Tamms, these are included ‘among other matters.’ This clause makes the criteria so broad as potentially to include every prisoner the IDOC. And, in fact, the IDOC has housed many men at Tamms who do not fit the Tribune’s stated criteria. More importantly, the newspaper is not in a position to know why anyone has been sent to Tamms and neither are legislators, prisoners, or their attorneys. Reasons for placement are secret and not open to review.”

    This is from:

  34. - wishbone - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 1:39 pm:

    “Adding a 4th year will only further torture those who have no interest in it.”

    Yeah, like I want to go to collige, but I don’t want to do any of that there thinkin stuff.

  35. - jake - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 1:53 pm:

    What makes this from Sheila Simon so sad is the memory of her father, who in his last years was a tireless and effective campaigner for reform in our criminal justice system. TAMMS as it is now functioning is a disgrace to the state, and to any society that would call itself civilized. It needs to be reformed or closed.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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