Last inmates leave Tamms ‘supermax’ prison

One of the more contentious episodes in the history of Illinois penitentiaries ended Friday as the last inmates held at the “supermax” prison in Tamms moved out and Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration prepares to shut it down.

The final five inmates at the high-security home for the “worst of the worst” were shipped to the Pontiac Correctional Center, a prison spokeswoman said. Among the last to leave was a convict who helped lead a prison riot in 1979 and stabbed serial killer John Wayne Gacy while on death row.

Also bused out of the southern Illinois city were four dozen residents of the adjoining minimum-security work camp, packed off to Sheridan Correctional Center in north-central Illinois.

The departures mark the end of a nearly 15-year experiment with the super maximum-security prison, which supporters say the state still needs for troublemaking convicts — particularly during a time of record inmate population. But opponents contend the prison’s practice of near-total isolation was inhumane and contributed to some inmates’ deteriorating mental health.

More than 130 inmates were moved out of the prison in just nine days, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that legal action by a state workers’ union could no longer hold up the governor’s closure plans. The state has offered to sell the $70 million facility the federal government, but there are no solid plans for the future of the prison, often simply called Tamms.

“It’s sad for our area, but we’re never going to give up,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg whose district includes Tamms. “We still have an overcrowding problem. That’s the deal with this. The governor has made it worse. Eventually, some of these facilities are going to have to reopen.”

But activists opposed to the prison’s isolation practices cheered Friday’s landmark moment. One organizer, Laurie Jo Reynolds, called the course to closure “a democratic process” that involved not high-priced lobbyists or powerful strategists but, “the people — truly, the people.”

Shuttering Tamms is part of Quinn’s plan to save money. The Democrat said housing an inmate at the prison cost three times what it does at general-population prisons. He has also closed three halfway houses for inmates nearing sentence completion, relocating their 159 inmates, and plans to shutter the women’s prison in Dwight. 

Read the rest here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-last-inmates-leave-tamms-supermax-prison-20121228,0,1550702.story
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Political prisoner Khalfani Malik Khaldun puts the Indiana prison system on trial

December 29, 2012

Since Dec. 13, 1994, Indiana political prisoner Khalfani Malik Khaldun (aka Leonard McQuay) has been held in control units, i.e. administrative segregation or isolation. It began when police and prison investigators manufactured a murder charge against him after a guard was stabbed and killed. Brother Khalfani is a Muslim and New Afrikan revolutionary educator who professes a strong sense of radical politics and culture.

Interview by the Campaign to Free Khalfani Malik Khaldun
Khalfani Malik Khaldun 042711
Campaign: How long have you been in Indiana’s prison plantation?
Khalfani Malik Khaldun: I entered the Indiana Department of Corrections in 1987, when I was a senior in high school.

Campaign: How old are you?
KMK: I was born Nov. 30, 1969. That makes me 43 years old.

Campaign: Explain to us what your life is like on the inside?
KMK: The best way to describe it is I am in prison sanctioned to indefinite solitary confinement engaged in multiple fights. One fight to regain my freedom, one fight to maintain my physical health, one fight to be released into the general population, and the last fight is to maintain my sanity – an all-day job.

Campaign: How has your activism made you a target for harassment or repression?
KMK: Being identified as a prison leader, political agitator, activist or revolutionary, we get automatically singled out as threats to others and threats to the safety and security of the prison plantations. Having been restricted from general population for so long, my influence has been reduced to small units. The idea behind all this is to destroy our ties and relationships with comrades and new youth coming in.

Campaign: Share your position on the political nature of your murder charge involving that prison guard, Phillip Curry.
KMK: On Dec. 13, 1994, the night this guard was killed at the Indiana State Prison, he was killed on the tier above where I lived. D-cell-house was where the prisoncrats housed the worst of the worst – their term, not mine. I was at that time agitating, educating and organizing the radical elements who would listen.
So when this happened, having been a thorn in the prisoncrats’ side already, they made me the responsible party that night; they were mad and wanted someone to pay. In 2001, they made me pay by finding me guilty and giving me a fresh 60-year hit.

One of the jurors who found me guilty, Juror No. 12, came forward after my trial; she regretted her actions and went to the judge. Instead of calling for a new trial and reversal of the charge, the judge told her to go home; the judge has since retired. They manufactured evidence to obtain their conviction against me.
I am in prison sanctioned to indefinite solitary confinement engaged in multiple fights. One fight to regain my freedom, one fight to maintain my physical health, one fight to be released into the general population, and the last fight is to maintain my sanity – an all-day job.

Campaign: Explain the corruption that exists inside Indiana’s criminal justice system.
KMK: Like any system of corrupt politicians and abuses of power, whoever can afford to pay a greedy lawyer to represent them here may stay out of prison. These lawyers have judges and prosecutors who will give one a pass as long as they receive a nice payoff.

Poor people get sent to prison to fulfill the schemes of the prisoncrats and political regime here; more bodies mean more money. As they say, power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Indiana legislators have slashed prison funding for educating prisoners and providing meaningful rehabilitative programs, so that money would be solely for building new prisons. So they are perpetuating a system that leads to more recidivism. Not having a viable re-entry program for prisoners prior to their release ensures a return to prison: capitalism at its best and the human exploitation of prisoners.

Campaign: Why are they continuing to house you in solitary confinement after nearly two decades?
KMK: The executive body of the Indiana Department of Corrections launched its political war against me in 1994, the night they lost one of their own. Being the only person accused, then later charged and convicted for this murder, to them Khalfani Malik Khaldun is Indiana’s public enemy number one; so they have condemned me to a prison existence in solitary confinement.

This goes beyond my sentence of 60 years. The courts did not say serve out this term in administrative segregation. The Indiana Department of Corrections wants payback, so in retaliation they want me suffering to the point of psychological incapacitation. They want me an old grey-hair grey-beard and no longer imposing a potential threat.

I am currently “conduct clear” for eight years, and I have completed the following programs: Substance Abuse; Stress Management; Anger Management; Commitment to Change; Prison-Life Skills; Parenting; Cage Your Rage; Rage, Recidivism and Recovery; Prison-Life Skills No. 2; Houses of Healing; Bridging the Gap; and Inside-Outside Dads.

I have been eligible for release to general population for years now. Their justification for not releasing me is they say I killed their officer, and nobody is comfortable with signing off on my release from solitary confinement.

Campaign: Why is it so important to build a networking support base on the outside of prison?
KMK: For the revolutionary, political prisoner, jailhouse lawyer, prison activist, outside resources and support is crucial. The prisoncrats isolate us to control our movements and neutralize our influence on other convicts.

Having a network of loyal people who have your best interests in mind helps to keep the public informed. These supporters can be family members, friends or anyone doing prisoner support work. They can help us expose whatever ill treatment we go through. When the prisoncrats know you have people who genuinely love and care about you, they’re less likely to openly mess you around.

Campaign: Explain how the Indiana Department of Corrections utilizes control units and why?
KMK: In the early 1980s, Indiana experienced several prison riots as a result of racism and brutality by guards on militant aspiring revolutionaries and lumpen proletariat prisoners, forcing prisoners to take a stand to defend themselves. Indiana prisoncrats learned some lessons from these insurrections – and one lesson was that there was a threat to the Indiana Department of Corrections posed by politically-unified convicts.

Indiana prisoncrats lobbied for funds to build two solitary confinement units here in response to the rebellion of militancy from convicts willing to sacrifice for change. 

In 1991, the Indiana Supermax was built, a control unit meant to be a tool of social control of the state’s most violent prisoners.

In 1993, the prisoncrats built the Secured Housing Unit (SHU), a unit styled after the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Both units were meant to cut the prisoners off from normal prison relations, while helping to keep the prisoners in the general population sort of in check. No one wants to spend unlimited years in Administrative Segregation, or solitary confinement.

The fear of being held in these units creates snitches who will tell prisoncrats whatever to stay in population. You may read about these units by going to the Human Rights Watch report, “Cold Storage: Super-Maximum Security Confinement inIndiana.” Amnesty International just released a 68-page report called “The Edgeof Endurance,” exposing solitary confinement in California.

Campaign: How important is it to stay in touch with your loved ones?
KMK: Doing time is like having cannibals eat away at your flesh day by day. Family love and their help to assist us in maintaining are paramount. I am a conscious, self-educated New Afrikan (Black) man who loves myself and those who love me. That connection helps to keep me determined, motivated and hopeful in times of sadness and loss of loved ones.

Since 1997, I have lost my mother, two brothers, an uncle and two cousins. I am fighting for my life, unable to cry, mourn or be a comfort to my family. Since 1994, my loved ones have been harassed, intimidated, threatened and discouraged by prisoncrats to not visit or write me at times. I have not had a contact visit since 2000. We continue to persevere through it all – because it is necessary.

Campaign: How do you work to maintain your health both mentally and physically?
KMK: For years I have maintained a consistent physical exercise routine and a healthy study habit of reading quality books and magazines. I don’t eat pork, and that’s been since 1987. I stopped eating red meat for 15 years; I recently started back eating it. Exercise and study has kept me active and healthy for many years.
One realistic fact that I want to share is no one leaves these experiences the same as they were when they came in. I am scarred by anxiety, depression, paranoia and hypertension as a result of being in long term isolation so many years.

I have made a conscious effort to humble myself and be less reactionary in emotional situations. This way these prisoncrats won’t have any ammunition to use to justify keeping me in solitary confinement. As long as I am living, I’m going to keep on fighting.

Campaign: How long did they keep you on the SCU – Special Confinement Unit?
KMK: Prisoncrats sent me to the SCU unit way in January 2003, and I spent 10 years in that windowless torture chamber. For the most part, that is one of Indiana’s most racist prisons, and the staff are 98 percent all-white with this philosophy of Southern racism.

That was the worst 10 years of my 26 years in prison. Altogether now I have 18 years straight in units of solitary confinement. They have tried to break my will to be defiant and destroy my mental faculties. Allah has guided me out of each storm. Allah-u-Akbar.

Campaign: What do you think prompted the prisoncrats to finally transfer you out on April 18, 2012?
KMK: A variety of reasons, but one in particular is my constant pursuits in civil court. On April 4, 2012, I filed with the court a motion for an immediate permanent injunctive relief judgment and a memorandum of law requesting the court to order the Indiana Department of Corrections to release me to general population. These prisoncrats moved me 14 days later to Pendleton Correctional Facility.

This in my opinion was done to get me out of their custody so I wouldn’t be a problem any longer. I had been challenging my department-wide solitary confinement status for years. The classification supervisor and superintendent also refused to release me in 2010, when I had completed a program serving as re-entry back to population. That ACT Program is an incentive for release. They released my entire class but not me.
Photo: Indiana’s Pendleton Correctional Facility was built in 1923.

Campaign: What are the conditions like at Pendleton Correctional Facility?
KMK: The transfer on April 18, 2012, out of the SCU to Pendleton did not land me in general population. Right now the general population is run like a concentration camp with fences and cameras everywhere; the whole prison is “controlled movement.”

The prisoncrats placed me on DWAS, Department-Wide Administrative Segregation. Inside G-cell-house, where all the potential threats and alleged troublemakers are housed, D-block is where all disciplinary segregation prisoners are housed. Also, C-block, where I am held, houses prisoners on Facility Administrative Segregation and prisoners on DWAS, Department-Wide Administrative Segregation, the status I am on.

DWAS are all single-man cells, with recreation one hour a day and 23 hours locked in a cell. We get recreation on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sundays, showering only on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. The only interaction we get is during recreation outside when we’re in the dog-run individual cages.

Campaign: Since your arrival at Pendleton, have any officials discussed with you your possible release from that status?
KMK: The prisoncrats are seriously playing games. Superintendent Keith Butts, who recently retired, sent me a letter claiming he would set up a plan to consider my release from DWAS status, but it was all a smokescreen to get me to ease up on my demands to be treated like the rest of these prisoners who are being released. They are picking and choosing and playing prison politics with our lives.

The current regime in the commissioner’s office at the Indiana Department of Corrections are not willing to give me a chance to prove them wrong. That is, if they released me and I transitioned without incident, they will not be able to say “That’s the bad guy” no more. There is no legitimate justification for my still being held captive in these units.

Campaign: How can people outside that are interested in helping you join the campaign to help free you? How can you benefit from their support?
KMK: Having been in prison since 1987, I have had the misfortune to lose family, friends; and my ties to relationships I’ve had with my female companions I have had to rebuild, which hasn’t been easy, then establish an extended family.

Right now, I need someone who is computer-savvy who can network with organizations to encourage them to take on my case. I need a website on Facebook that solely covers my entire case, and we need a law firm that assists political prisoners that is activist-conscious. We also need someone qualified and good with fundraising.

My success with Indiana lawyers haven’t been great. They seem to be afraid to go up against the Indiana Department of Corrections and the lawyers from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. We must find a lawyer out of state who can practice in the state of Indiana.

Those wanting to join this campaign to assist me in my freedom, please write me directly and we’ll go from there; honestly, we need all the willing working bodies we can get on this campaign.

Right now, I need someone who is computer-savvy who can network with organizations to encourage them to take on my case. I need a website on Facebook that solely covers my entire case, and we need a law firm that assists political prisoners that is activist-conscious. We also need someone qualified and good with fundraising.

Campaign: How is your civil and criminal fight coming along in the politics of the Indiana Court System?
KMK: On Jan. 11, 2013, I have a hearing on my civil law suit challenging my continued confinement by the Indiana Department of Corrections. I filed several motions pro se that will be covering primarily my request for the court to order my release to general population.

My criminal murder case is currently at a standstill, and my initial post-conviction appeal was denied, because the Public Defender’s Office gave me an attorney who felt I was guilty and I should do my time. He messed my case up.

I am preparing a successive post-conviction relief petition. My rights are being violated civilly and criminally, and I will never relent nor lose my self-determination to fight.

Campaign: Any final words you want to share with the public and the revolutionary community?
KMK: I can honestly say that Indiana as far as prisoners abandoning their criminal mentalities and transforming to political consciousness goes, our “think tanks,” we’re very aggressive in producing politically-active prisoners, but we seem to have lost our momentum somewhere.

Prisoners are still studying and having individual dialogues, and I think prisoners, in an attempt to avoid being captured and held for 10-20 years in solitary confinement, are becoming less vocal and active. My having been held for the past 18 years is their prime example of where they don’t want to be.

To me, life is not easy, never has been, and to struggle means to reject being the victim. One who struggles is a rejuvenated fighter life-long. We are organized, prepared and multi-talented. To struggle is to understand complexity and to pick one’s own battles. There cannot be fruitful progress without a real struggle. I am not broken by my adversity, but I am experiencing psychological fatigue. A luta continua.

Send our brother some love and light: Khalfani Malik Khaldun (Leonard McQuay), 874304, Pendleton Correctional Facility, GCH 17/2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064.

Two Illinois prisons to close

From: Beloit Daily News
June 20, 2012

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn revealed Tuesday that he is closing state prisons in Tamms and Dwight even though the budget sent to him by legislators includes money to maintain the prisons and the hundreds of jobs they create.

The administration also said it will close halfway houses in Carbondale, Chicago and Decatur, along with youth prisons in Murphysboro and Joliet.

Tamms, in far southern Illinois, is home to a “supermax” prison that houses the most dangerous inmates and employees about 300 people. The Dwight facility is a women’s prison in north-central Illinois with 350 employees. Together they house about 1,400 inmates.

Closing them will mean squeezing more inmates into the remaining prisons, which are already seriously overcrowded. The system now houses about 14,000 more inmates than it was designed to hold.

Word of the governor’s decision came in the form of a memo to state employees letting them know they would soon get information on how layoffs will be handled.

Later, Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft released a statement saying the Tamms prison is only half-full and far more expensive than other facilities. Dwight is close to several other prisons, she said.
“Overall, these closures will allow the state to better live within our means and address the state’s most pressing needs,” Kraft said.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a Republican, warned that the move could jeopardize safety. “Overcrowded prisons pose a real danger to employees and local communities,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, was clearly angry that his region stands to lose a prison, a halfway house and a youth camp.

“The governor says he’s a jobs governor. I don’t know if I can believe that anymore when he’s cutting 500 jobs in southern Illinois,” Phelps said.

Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, said much the same about closing Dwight, calling it “reckless.”
Most of the closures will take effect Aug. 31. The Joliet youth camp will stay open until Oct. 31.

Quinn’s decision “elated” activists with Tamms Year Ten, a volunteer campaign to reform or close the supermax prison. Tamms inmates are kept isolated in their cells 23 hours a day for years at a time, a practice that some view as cruel and harmful for the prisoners.

Organizer Laurie Jo Reynolds said the prisoners’ “family members, especially the mothers, are relieved and grateful that the long nightmare at Tamms has ended.”

Read the rest here: http://www.beloitdailynews.com/news/two-illinois-prisons-to-close/article_88bc9780-baf5-11e1-b7bc-001a4bcf887a.html

Rising Criticism of Tamms Illinois Supermax

Source: Solitary Watch

2010 January 2

by James Ridgeway

(Photo: Supermaxed.com)

Some of the best reporting on solitary confinement last year came from Beth Hundsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk at the Belleville News-Democrat, a regional paper in southwestern Illinois. Their multi-part series on the state’s twelve-year-old supermax prison, ”Trapped in Tamms,” appeared in the paper in August. Their expose was particularly damning on the treatment of mentally ill inmates at Tamms.
In a tribute to the power of good investigative reporting, the series fueled a series of responses, including statements from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and hearings in the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, chaired by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. The following month, the Illinois Department of Corrections issued a “Ten-Point Plan” for reforming Tamms. (More information on Tamms, including a critique of the DOC’s plan, can be found on the web site of Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots coalition that protests ”misguided and inhumane conditions” at the supermax).
A new story by Hundsdorfer and Pawlaczyk appeared this week in the News-Democrat and in the Chicago Tribune. It focuses on the cost of housing Tamms’s 250 high-security prisoners–some $23 million annually, or $92,000 per inmate–as well as continuing questions about the supermax’s humanity and efficacy.
The annual cost of providing mental health care at Tamms — which critics, such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch, say causes mental illness by imposing years solitary confinement — is $1.2 million. Most of that expense goes into operating the Special Treatment Unit, which usually houses fewer than a dozen inmates. The Tamms staff psychiatrist is paid $288,000 per year.
Five months after a Belleville News-Democrat investigative series reported abuses at the supermax, and nearly four months after prison system director Michael Randle announced limited reforms, 48 inmates have been cleared for transfer out of Tamms.
But as Randle struggles to find ways to keep costs down statewide, prison experts and attorneys who handle prison-condition lawsuits question whether Tamms actually works….
Supermax critics challenge the idea that confining 250 or so prisoners — half of 1 percent of the entire state prison-system population — does any good. They argue it is illogical to believe isolating fewer prisoners than are held in many county jails can have any real effect on reducing violence in a large, highly transient prison system….
The way Tamms officials handle inmates sent to the lockup, especially mentally ill prisoners, by locking them in solitary with little or no social contact, is far different than the policy at what is arguably the largest lockup in the United Sates: the 10,000 prisoner Cook County Jail.
The newspaper’s Tamms series reported that mentally ill inmates reacted to being held for as long as more than a decade in solitary by mutilating themselves to the point of needing hospitalization, and by throwing feces and urine at guards and smearing bodily wastes on themselves.
Randle repeatedly said Tamms is reserved for the “worst of the worst,” although the newspaper’s findings challenged that assumption. The series reported that more than half of Tamms inmates had committed no crimes inside prison and that others were seriously mentally ill and did not receive treatment.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said during a November interview that about 250 mentally ill prisoners, including 50 who are seriously mentally ill, are treated in a special unit at the sprawling jail. There is no Hannibal Lecter treatment, he said. The jail isolates only actively psychotic inmates and even then, only for a few hours or a few days at a time. All but a few mentally ill Cook County inmates are out of their cells all day and mingle with other prisoners and staff.

As for long-term solitary confinement, Dart said, “That stuff doesn’t really work.”

Illinois pays heavily for supermax prison

Source: UPI

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Jan. 2 (UPI) — Illinois is paying at least $64,000 per inmate a year at its supermax prison, the Tamms Correctional Center, state reports show.

The state has reduced the apparent per-prisoner cost by including 155 inmates housed in a minimum-security camp on the grounds, the Belleville News-Democrat reported. Total spending on the facility in 2008 was $27.7 million, and the newspaper calculates that would work out to $92,000 for each supermax inmate if the cost of the minimum-security inmates is put at $30,000 each.

The supermax facility houses 250 inmates in solitary confinement, about one-half of 1 percent of state prisoners in Illinois.

Even the $64,000 figure is two or three times what Illinois pays to house inmates at its three other maximum-security prisons.

Some experts question whether Tamms is worth the cost, the newspaper said. Michael Randle, head of the state prison system, testified that Tamms serves as a deterrent to violence at other prisons.

Jody Sundt of Portland State University in Oregon has studied the impact of supermax prisons. She said she found a drop in violence in Illinois after Tamms opened, but said there could be other reasons and other states have not seen similar declines.
“It is primarily a symbol, a gesture of overwhelming control,” Sundt said.

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

ILLINOIS EXCHANGE: Tamms spending questioned

By GEORGE PAWLACZYK and BETH HUNDSDORFER Belleville News-Democrat
December 31, 2009
Chicago Tribune

TAMMS, Ill. – For almost 12 years, Illinois taxpayers have paid one of the highest per-inmate costs in the country to house what the Department of Corrections says are the 250 worst inmates in the state.

The per-year cost to operate the solitary-confinement-only Tamms Correctional Center has grown to at least $16 million — $64,000 per prisoner, according to figures provided by the state. The amount is two to three times what is spent annually to house an inmate at the three other maximum security lockups in Illinois.

However, the actual per-inmate cost of running the Tamms supermax is undoubtedly much higher, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections 2008 Annual Report. That’s because 155 inmates at a minimum security camp operated on the same grounds are included in the figures.

The combined annual cost for the supermax and the minimum security camp is $27.7 million. Using the generous per-inmate cost of $30,000 per year for a minimum security inmate, a classification that requires the least amount of guards and services, the cost of the minimum camp is $4.7 million annually. That leaves $23 million for the supermax, or $92,000 per inmate.

The annual cost of providing mental health care at Tamms — which critics, such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch, say causes mental illness by imposing years solitary confinement — is $1.2 million. Most of that expense goes into operating the Special Treatment Unit, which usually houses fewer than a dozen inmates. The Tamms staff psychiatrist is paid $288,000 per year.

Five months after a Belleville News-Democrat investigative series reported abuses at the supermax, and nearly four months after prison system director Michael Randle announced limited reforms, 48 inmates have been cleared for transfer out of Tamms.

But as Randle struggles to find ways to keep costs down statewide, prison experts and attorneys who handle prison-condition lawsuits question whether Tamms actually works.

Randle recently testified in a federal lawsuit brought by Tamms prisoners that the supermax is crucial to safety throughout the system and deterring assaults against guards because inmates fear transfer to Tamms. However, as of Wednesday, his office had not provided any data requested by the News-Democrat concerning whether assaults on guards have declined since Tamms opened.

Supermax critics challenge the idea that confining 250 or so prisoners — half of 1 percent of the entire state prison-system population — does any good. They argue it is illogical to believe isolating fewer prisoners than are held in many county jails can have any real effect on reducing violence in a large, highly transient prison system.

While DOC data show that assaults against guards dropped for about 1 1/2 years after Tamms opened in 1998, the decrease has been attributed by critics to statewide prison reforms that began in 1996.

“It is inconceivable that they support the idea that violence declined because of Tamms,” said Chicago-area lawyer Jean Maclean Snyder, who has represented Tamms inmates in federal lawsuits. “It declined because of other security changes.”

Jody L. Sundt, who co-authored a 2008 study about Tamms, said supermax prisons are not cost-effective and probably do not achieve long-term goals.

“It is primarily a symbol, a gesture of overwhelming control,” said Sundt, an assistant professor in the Division of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Portland State University in Oregon.

Sundt’s study found that violence against guards did decrease during an 18-month period following the opening of Tamms, but she said she and her fellow researchers could not determine why. The study showed the short-term decrease was not solely due to ongoing reforms that began a few years earlier. No similar decreases were found in studies of supermax prisons in other states.

Sundt said that while inmates who commit crimes in prison need to be under strict control, programming, not years of solitary confinement, is more likely to reduce violence.

“Some might say it isn’t torture because no bones are broken, but it causes pain and suffering,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, recently praised the mental health treatment inmates receive in Tamms’ Special Treatment Unit. He had earlier convened a Senate subcommittee on human rights because of his concern about Tamms inmates.

During a recent media tour, reporters saw mentally ill inmates in a treatment area. Each was confined to a separate Plexiglas booth set in a semi-circle and was playing a card game without actually touching any cards, which were handled by a $50,000-per-year activity director.

“The idea that Tamms serves as a deterrent is, on its face, nonsense,” said Stephen F. Eisenman, an art history professor at Northwestern University in Chicago with a Ph.D. from Princeton. Eisenman has published widely, including the 2007 book “The Abu Ghraib Effect,” concerning abuses at the U.S. military prison in Baghdad.

“Only a tiny fraction of those who commit any kinds of felonies in the prison system get sent to Tamms,” said Eisenman, who also contends that the supermax does little or nothing to curb violence against guards at other prisons.

“To attribute it (a decline in violence) to this one small factor, this tiny prison opened in Southern Illinois, I just think is absurd,” he said, adding, “What I think is really going on here is that the prison guards and the (guards’) union like to have a place like Tamms where they can send somebody who has attacked a guard. Guards have difficult jobs, and if one of their own is attacked, they like to be able to feel that there is some way to get back at the prisoner, like sending him to Tamms.”

Anders Lindall, the public affairs director for the guards’ union — Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — said violence against guards, according to “numerous anecdotal reports” from the union’s membership, is increasing, not decreasing. He denied that guards sought vengeance against inmates.

Chad S. Briggs, a doctoral candidate at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, who worked with Sundt on the Tamms study, said, “Conceptually, Tamms doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The way Tamms officials handle inmates sent to the lockup, especially mentally ill prisoners, by locking them in solitary with little or no social contact, is far different than the policy at what is arguably the largest lockup in the United Sates: the 10,000 prisoner Cook County Jail.

The newspaper’s Tamms series reported that mentally ill inmates reacted to being held for as long as more than a decade in solitary by mutilating themselves to the point of needing hospitalization, and by throwing feces and urine at guards and smearing bodily wastes on themselves.

Randle repeatedly said Tamms is reserved for the “worst of the worst,” although the newspaper’s findings challenged that assumption. The series reported that more than half of Tamms inmates had committed no crimes inside prison and that others were seriously mentally ill and did not receive treatment.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said during a November interview that about 250 mentally ill prisoners, including 50 who are seriously mentally ill, are treated in a special unit at the sprawling jail. There is no Hannibal Lecter treatment, he said. The jail isolates only actively psychotic inmates and even then, only for a few hours or a few days at a time. All but a few mentally ill Cook County inmates are out of their cells all day and mingle with other prisoners and staff.

As for long-term solitary confinement, Dart said, “That stuff doesn’t really work.”
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-il-tammsprison-cost,0,3504855,full.story

Coming to the Boscobel Supermax

By an inmate in WI

This essay was originally published at the FFUP website in 2005, but since the host will be closing down, we wanted to re-publish it here.

It was a dark, gloomy, overcast morning that greeted me as I awoke May 6, 2003. And the prognosis for the rest of the day didn’t appear to be any better. Because today was to my the last day in Racine Correctional Institution. I was due to depart to the Boscobel Supermax! Ever since I first had the fight, which landed me in the hole with a battery charge and I got 8 days seg, 360 days disciplinary separation, there had been a feeling of impending dread.

There was little doubt in my mind to what would be my fate. Often times I had hastily made that declaration in the heat of an argument- ‘I’ll be going to Boscobel Supermax and you’ll be going to Mercy Hospital.’ It was one of my favorite sayings. How could I know that it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy in a matter of days.

So here I was, stark naked in a cell at 5:30, I am preparing to leave. The stories about the place abounded, and although I had already done lots of hole time in lots of joints around the country, this place invoked thoughts of doom deep inside me. All those that were unfortunate enough to be headed for the Supermax were stripped, shackled, and placed in a transport van. It was pouring out as we struggled to board the van. The ride began slowly as we made our way out of the institution and no one said a word as we all looked out the window lost in our individual thoughts. My thoughts were that this really won’t be so bad. ‘Damn, I messed up.’

As we ventured down the back roads, the somber moods seemed to lighten and we began to comment on the different homes and vehicles we saw. Things really picked up as we made a pit stop at a gas station, that had several cute girls standing around. Surprisingly, we talked all the way there with very little room for pause.

As we neared the town of Boscobel, things began to tense up, you could fell it in the air, the only thing to relieve the tension was when we saw this black guy walking down the streets of a small town outside of Boscobel. The sign read: Boscobel 11 miles, as we crossed over the Wisconsin River, and we all began fading from the conversation to enter into our own thoughts. Once again, I was thinking how beautiful this area was, with its rolling hills full of trees, open plains full of crops and small valleys- I had never seen anything like it before. This is the perfect place to live- except if you are in Boscobel Supermax.

We turned off the two- lane highway and out across the town. There wasn’t too much to see until we headed toward another grove of trees only to discover that’s where they built the joint. Upon first glance it appeared to be like all the rest of the prisons I had seen, but upon closer inspection, the outside didn’t seem right. First of all, Boscobel doesn’t have any of the ascetic needs of other joints so its looks are as stern as the rest of it.

After an amusingly long and thorough search of the van we were allowed to proceed from the gatehouse to the sally port. An all I could think of was: ‘Who would want to sneak up on this joint? What a joke.’ Even the officers from RCI were amazed at the security measures. Once we reached the sally port, the doors opened and 6 or 7 Boscobel officers were standing there. The white shirt called out a name and one of the guys got off the van and was immediately surrounded by the Boscobel staff and taken into the building. It was really as extreme as it sounds. They literally all took hold of him, as if the cuffs, waistband, and shackles weren’t enough to restrain us.+

Then it was my turn. The same exact thing happened to me- every single guard placed his hand upon me as if I was Hannibal Lector!

Once inside, we were placed in strip cells and searched again. And from there they escorted me to my new home on alpha unit. There was an announcement over the PA that said two officers and one inmate were en route to Alpha. As I walked down a very long, brightly lit corridor, the officer instructed me not to look anywhere but straight ahead or else I would be taken down+ immediately.

We finally reach our destination: the alpha pod. I was placed in a cell in the fourth range. There was a concrete slab for a bed with a rather comfortable looking mattress; there were two cut away cubbyholes for storing personal items, a stainless steel toilet and sink combination which I always hate because of the cold on your butt when you flushed.

There were only two windows which one could peer out although there was little to see. I could look across from me into the adjacent room- a vestibule between two cells. But there didn’t seem to be anyone in there. The other window was a small cut on the wall which allowed access to the hallway. I could see only two other windows with the name of occupants posted under them.

After taking a nap, I heard some voices, which sounded as if it were right in the room with me. So I sprang up to discover I was alone and that the voices were coming out of the vents. Some guy with a harsh, crackling voice was calling me I think, ‘Hey, Young Blood.’ He said. I said, ‘I’m not no young buck dude- I’m 40 some years old.’ ‘Oh, I thought you were young, that’s why I said that,’ he responded. He told me who he was and gave me a crash course in how to do Supermax time. The things he said did help later on. But this was still about the most difficult time I’ve had to do and mainly it was because of the inmates- the kind of guys that get into the vent and talk for hours just crankin’ out.

Because of the sensory deprivation, things take on a new meaning. Just to see people was a big bonus even if they were just guards. To hear people talk about real events, since there were no newspapers, TV news or radio to keep you informed**, I know why so many guys go completely insane within this kind of environment. It’s because that’s what it’s designed to do- drive you crazy.

If I had not been for my faith in God, and through the help of some lovely people like FFUP, I might have lost my senses or lost my will to go on or to make the most of this situation. But I made it out of Boscobel and with the grace, mercy and love of God, I will soon make it home again.


+ taken down- tackled, pushed to the floor by all escorting guards- this is the ‘face forward policy’ and it causes much difficulty.

** Boscobel runs on a deprivation system called ‘the level system.’ Inmates are allowed more materials as they progress, although they never get to see or read local news and the TV channels are very limited. They only have a pen nib to write with. Even in the highest levels, this is a life of extreme deprivation.