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Thick irony

Tuesday, Feb 5, 2013

* The Tamms super-max prison kept inmates isolated almost all the time. That treatment led human rights groups to label the incarceration torture. When I visited some prisons several years ago, including Tamms, I couldn’t help but notice that the super-max prison was cleaner than the other prisons and, also unlike the other prisons, had decent climate control, wasn’t crowded and was quiet.

So, now that the super-max prisoners have been transferred to Pontiac, some have declared a hunger strike

The Chicago-based Uptown People’s Law Center said an estimated 10 prisoners are participating in the strike, which comes about a month after the inmates were transferred out of Tamms and into the older facility in Livingston County.

Key among their grievances is a lack of heat because of some of the retrofitting that was done in order to prepare Pontiac for the prisoners from Tamms. The prisoners are complaining that plexiglass panels installed on their cell doors block heat from entering their living areas, said Brian Nelson prison rights coordinator for the law center. […]

Nelson said the prisoners are upset that they don’t have televisions, radios, cleaning supplies, legal-sized envelopes and razors. In addition, he said they also are being forced to share nail clippers even though some men have illnesses.

“They are requesting that the clippers be sterilized after every use,” Nelson said.

The group says just ten former Tamms inmates are on hunger strike, but the Department of Corrections says that 47 inmates at Pontiac have recently declared they’re on hunger strikes.

* Meanwhile

A prison guard injured in a fight Monday at the Pontiac Correctional Center will undergo facial reconstructive surgery Thursday.

The unidentified officer received significant facial injuries, including a broken nose, when he was assaulted by an inmate.

The assault came a month after the Quinn administration moved inmates out of a southern Illinois lock-up designed for dangerous prisoners.

No way would I ever want to do that job. My hat’s off to all of them.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


20 Comments
  1. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 11:44 am:

    So the legal rights groups objected to Tamms and now are objecting to Pontiac. Just what are we supposed to do, release the prisoners?

    I agree - it’s a tough job and we should be thankful for those who do it.


  2. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 12:45 pm:

    We have to fix this problem, or where are we going to keep our politicians?


  3. - Alan Mills - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 1:01 pm:

    As the Legal Director at the Uptown People’s Law Center, I wanted to answer the very good question posed by DuPage Dan. No one suggests that these guys should be released, nor is that anything they are asking for. What we should do is have prisons that are adequately staffed, and have space for all of the porisoners assigned to them. AFSCME has consistently made the point that there are hundreds of vacancies systemwide, which seriously interfer with prison operations. We agree.

    As long as Illinois insists on locking in prison thousands of people convicted of possessing small quantities of drugs, or cted of DUI’s, then the state will have to pay for additional staff, and space.

    It is a very good thing that the costly, ineffective, and inhumane Tamms supermax is closed. But that is hardly the end of the problems with Illinois’ prison system. The entire system needs to be fixed. CLosing a couple of costly, out dated facilities is only the start.


  4. - Sgtstu - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 1:31 pm:

    Alen Mills - I think you are missing the point of this post. These inmates cryed to you and anyone else who would listen. In turn the Gov. was asked to close this “inhuman prison”,. Well it was done and now the same inmates “worst of the worst” are crying they have it “worse” than they did at Tamms. I think Dupage Dan’s remark might be snark for, short of letting them out what more do they want ? Dupage if I am incorrect please let me know.


  5. - Sgtstu - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 1:31 pm:

    Cried x 2 sorry


  6. - so what - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 2:29 pm:

    No TV or Radio! What a crime, I have a solution..
    READ A BOOK!


  7. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 3:01 pm:

    Alan, please provide the numbers regarding the subjects incarcerated in Illinois prisons for possessing “small amounts” of drugs and for DUI offenses. Exactly how many are there and what percentage of the population are they?


  8. - Ava - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 3:24 pm:

    Was the prisoner who injured the officer one of the transferees from Tamms?


  9. - Ad - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 3:32 pm:

    Substituting one type of inhumane treatment (i.e., solitary confinement) for another (i.e., lack of heat)should not lead to a reductio ad absurdum argument that the only solution is for inmate release or that these concerns should be ignored.

    Stop criminalizing more and more behaviora, utilize alternative non-confinement sentences, and, above all, provide a safe and habitable environment for prisoners before placing them in any of these facilities. 


  10. - Chevy owner/Ford County - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:11 pm:

    Here’s hoping the hunger strike comes to a speedy end for each of these convicts. The prison needs the space.


  11. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 4:52 pm:

    Sgtstu - you are correct.

    Mr Mills, are you suggesting that Tamms is outdated and inhumane? Outdated? compared to Pontiac? Uh, build dates would suggest otherwise.

    Inhumane? Compared to Pontiac? If that is so, why are the inmates complaining?

    Discussion about folks being convicted of possession of small amounts of drugs and DUIs is not really on topic, is it? Housing the most violent of the convicted criminals is the topic, no? Putting these very violent criminals into a prison not equipped to deal with them is a recipe for disaster - injuries to other prisoners and guards - isn’t that why many were sent to Tamms in the first place?

    While the conditions might make many uncomfortable, I would suggest that the prisoners can make their lives a little better if they stopped being so violent. Please spare us the explanations or excuses for their behavior - we all make choices in our lives. Their choice was to break the law in and out of prison.


  12. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:04 pm:

    Ad, solitary confinement may be the only way to prevent these violent convicted felons from harming other inmates, guards and even themselves. There is a reality at play here. Some folks can’t, or won’t, conform their behavior to basic societal norms. They must be segregated from the public for our safety. If those folks continue to exhibit behavior that endangers others even in the restrictive environment of prison, more drastic measures become necessary. Being a mental health professional, I am aware that solitary confinement can exacerbate already existing mental conditions or can even cause them. What, then is your prescription for dealing with a person already convicted of a violent felony crime who continues to be violent to those around them while incarcerated? While some forms of therapy can have a positive impact on a person this can take years to have an effect. How do we protect staff and other inmates from the violent inmate while we await the transformation?

    Your post ignores the core issue at hand. It talks of alternative non-confinement sentences - NOT appropriate for violent offenders. It talks about seeking to end criminalizing certain behaviors - uh, sir, these folks have been convicted of violent crimes - we won’t be decriminalizing that behavior any time soon.

    Using latin will not make you sound more intelligent. You must connect those statements to logic - you failed to do so.

    Illegitimi non carborundum - keep on trying till you get it right.


  13. - Alan Mills - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:30 pm:

    Sgtstu–I chose to take Dan’s question as a serious inquiry. Whether he intended it that way or not, his was a good question, which deserved a serious answer.

    Anonymous–according to the IDOC Annual Report, 31.8% of all admissions to the IDOC are for technical violations of parole (e.g., no new crime). There are 1,762 prisoners convicted of DUI’s–enough to close an entire prison. There are over 9,000 prisoners convicted of controlled substances.

    When one looks at admissions (rather than static population fgigures, almost 40% are for drug offenses (note: the IDOC stopped reporting this stat in 2001).


  14. - State Worker - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:53 pm:

    === There are 1,762 prisoners convicted of DUI’s–enough to close an entire prison. === So you want to release them so they can go out and kill somebody when they drink and drive again? How would you feel if they killed your wife, daughter or son? It’s just a “DUI”. You amaze me.


  15. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 5:53 pm:

    Alan,
    thanks for the info. i figured less than a thousand for felony dui. MADD must have some pull.


  16. - Wally - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 10:20 pm:

    Mr. Mills 9000 for drugs? What do you think the major cause of all the gun and Gang violence is over? You sir don’t have a clue. I work around these guys 40+hours a week. Let these minor drug offenders out and have them move near you,your wife, and your kids. Not me mr. Mills


  17. - Southern illinoisan - Tuesday, Feb 5, 13 @ 10:36 pm:

    It is a dangerous job for sure and Governor Quinn and the GA will not honor a legally binding contract to pay a decent salary for staff who put their lives on the line for public safety. It would be nice if the public would support DOC staff in their time of need. Speak up and tell elected officials to do the right thing.


  18. - Small Town Liberal - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 6:13 am:

    - What do you think the major cause of all the gun and Gang violence is over? -

    I think it’s over the same thing as it was during prohibition, do you see many gang wars over booze these days?


  19. - Ad - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 10:32 am:

    Dupage Dan - although I do appreciate condescension as much as the next person, I think you may be the ones who misses the point. First, there are two distinct stories here. There is no evidence the prisoner in the second article was from or would have been assigned to Tamms, second, the solution to such attacks cannot be to place all inmates in solitary confinement for most of the day, third, overcrowding and potentially inhumane conditions and violence that result could be at least partially resolved by non-jail sentences for nonviolent offenders or reducing the number of actions that are classified as criminal conduct, fourth, freeing up this space could allow for more adequate safeguards for violent offenders, and fifth, lack of resources and money can never be an appropriate reason for any type of inhumane conditions. A sentence by a judge of x number of years in solitary confinement or without heat would raise protests on all manner of legal grounds. The State should not, de facto, institute such pinishment. Should they be restrained in shackles 24/7? Lobotomized? As a mental health professional, you may find it easier to not view these inmates as deserving of basic rights or legal protections. No Latin needed.


  20. - Cosmic Charlie - Wednesday, Feb 6, 13 @ 11:42 am:

    Rich, can you please point something out to the readers? I know you’re in favor of a certain degree of decriminalazation of drug offenses, but there seems to be a disconnect in all of these discussions. The question always seems to be “How many people are in prison due to drug/DUI offenses?” In this discussion the question should be “How many people are in Tamms/Pontiac for drug/DUI offenses?” The answer is, “Very few!” The same question posed with East Moline CC will yield a different answer….
    Closing the most secure facilities is problematic because it forces the most violent offenders to be mixed with less violent ones. As for “technical parole violators,” please keep a few things in mind. First, Advocates would have you believe that violators have done nothing wrong. In reality, a violator situation looks more like this. An inmate is paroled after serving 50% of their sentence for Aggrevated Battery. The conditions of their parole require them to call their Parole Officer once a week/month. Wear an ankle bracket. And not use drugs. Parolees are routinely given multiple “mulligans” before they are violated. Ask any PO. So a guy that serves 50% of his sentence and refuses to make a phone call, cuts of his bracelet and fails a drug test has done nothing wrong? If they wanted to stay out of prison they would follow those simple rules. Appearently, 32% can’t. I do not feel sorry for them…


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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