Chicago - Dec. 5, 2021
Music TV Politics Sports Books People Places & Things
 
Beachwood Politics
Our monthly archive.
Who We Are
Chicago by the numbers.
Sausage Links
Wiki Daley
Wiki Rahm
Illinois Channel
CAN TV
Ralph Martire
Doonesbury
Government Attic
Division Street
Indie Political Report
The Obameter
ProPublica
The Intercept
SCOTUS Blog
American Dream Betrayed

Tamms And The Trib

By Tamms Year Ten

Editor's Note: The folks from Tamms Year Ten won a meeting last week with the Tribune editorial board to discuss a recent editorial (reprinted below) it took issue with. Here is their account.

tamms.jpg

Five advocates for changes at Tamms supermax prison met with editorial page editor R. Bruce Dold and other members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

The meeting began with a discussion, led by attorneys Malcolm Young and Jean Maclean Snyder, about the absence of clear criteria for transfer to Tamms and for transfer back out. Dold wanted to hear from Johnnie Walton, a former prisoner at Tamms, about what it was was like to be held in isolation for five years. Mr. Walton, 58, said he had been a gang leader since 1968, but after his son was murdered in 1988, he cut himself off from gang activity, and changed his life to work for peace and unity. By the time he was sent to Tamms in 2003, he had been a model prisoner for 18 years, working for prison industries, which is considered a privilege. He emphasized that you cannot have a disciplinary ticket when you work for prison industries. He described the agony of staring at a wall all day every day and how many prisoners spent as much as 20 hours per day sleeping as a way to cope with numbing boredom, and the effects to the mind. He did not know why he was sent to Tamms, or why he remained there for five years.

Jean discussed the recent death of Robert Foor, a mentally ill prisoner who had been in isolation at Tamms for 10 years. He deteriorated at Tamms. He self-mutilated, bit and tried to hang himself, but became more violent. He died at age 33 of unknown causes. She used this as a symbol of the problem with Tamms. Even if there were due process for sending someone to Tamms, what is the goal in keeping them in isolation for ten years? Fifteen percent of the prisoners receive mental health treatment.

Dold and board member Pat Widder asked several questions about whether the state needed a supermax at all. Dold additionally asked what sort of prisoners required long-term isolation, and whether existing maximum security facilities were adequate to contain them. Several members of the reform group fielded these questions, answering that Tamms Year Ten was focused on reform of an institution that is not working and has many negative unintended consequences.

When asked by Widder whether the the group agreed that the opening of Tamms led to a decrease in violence in Illinois prisons, Stephen F. Eisenman, a professor at Northwestern University and author of a book about torture at Abu Ghraib prison, stated that there was no empirical data to support that claim. Laurie Jo Reynolds added that system-wide reforms in Illinois prisons began before the opening of Tamms supermax. Walton, who had been incarcerated during the 180-degree change in policy, summarized the impetus behind the re-establishment of security "in two words: Richard Speck." Revelations of the serial killer's brazen promiscuity behind bars shed national attention on lax rules in Illinois prisons, and led to a crackdown well before the opening of Tamms in 1998.

Widder and Dold indicated that the original editorial was not intended to imply that there were not problems at Tamms, only that they questioned a legislative remedy, and thought that the executive branch is a more appropriate venue. Reynolds explained that the original legislative impetus for the prison was from Governor Edgar's task force, which had actually specified that specific objective criteria should be mandated by statute to ensure humanitarian safeguards and avoid long-term isolation.

In answer to the question, "Will you publish a new editorial on Tamms?" Widder replied "Yes, we will certainly return to this issue after we meet with new IDOC chief Michael Randle." The meeting adjourned after a little more than an hour, and reform advocates joined their fifty supports who formed a picket line on the plaza in front of the Tribune Tower.

*

Ten Corrections To Mistakes In The may 13, 2009 Tribune Editorial, Plus Discussion Of Two Omissions And One Misleading Summary.

MISTAKE 1: "Men are sent to Tamms for violence and disruption."

Tribune: 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.

Correction: 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.

MISTAKE 2: "Prisoners who behave are transferred from Tamms."

Tribune: Many Tamms inmates serve their time, learn to modify their violent or disruptive behavior and transfer out.

Correction: Many prisoners who modify their behavior are not transferred out. In fact, many are earning good-time and have better disciplinary histories than men in regular Illinois prisons, yet have remained in Tamms for years! An example: two men with indeterminate sentences were granted parole by the Prisoner Review Board directly from Tamms supermax. They spent years in Tamms with good behavior, and would undoubtedly still be there if not for intervention by the PRB. Furthermore, the underlying premise here is false. Research indicates that supermaxes don't offer lessons; they worsen behavior, especially among mentally ill people, and increase recidivism.

MISTAKE 3: "Tamms prisoners know why they are placed in Tamms."

Tribune: "They know exactly why they're being held. They know how they can get out of Tamms," said state Rep. Jim Sacia, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement who opposes the bill.

Correction: Not even the IDOC can say how a man can get out of Tamms because, as they have stated repeatedly, their transfer review is an entirely subjective process. The IDOC also is not required to, and normally does not, give prisoners a reason for their placement. The fact that they don't tell at least some prisoners is confirmed by IDOC staff. In sharp contrast, prisoners sent to disciplinary segregation in a regular prison for even one week know the reason for placement, and have a right to a hearing and an appeal. The placement hearing required by HB2633 is not significantly different than the hearing a prisoner would have for a disciplinary ticket in a regular prison.

MISTAKE 4: Misrepresentation of the Ohio Supreme Court case.

Tribune: A similar issue arose in a legal battle over placement of inmates in Ohio's "super-max" prison. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2005 that the state's "first obligation must be to ensure the safety of guards and prison personnel, the public and prisoners themselves." The justices determined that "courts must give substantial deference to prison management decisions" against the "brutal reality of prison gangs . . . Prolonged confinement in supermax may be the state's only option for the control of some inmates."

Correction: It is misleading to suggest that the Ohio case restricts due process protections and supports the status quo at Tamms. Here's why:

(1) In Wilkinson, the Supreme Court said that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause affords prisoners a liberty interest in avoiding placement in the state's supermax prison. The Court found that right to due process was consistent with its mandate that safety was the first priority for prison officials.

(2) The Supreme Court also observed that when the Ohio State Penitentiary first became operational, the placement policies were inconsistent, resulting in haphazard transfers. This is precisely the current situation in Illinois, which is why there is need for legislation. Tamms inmates currently lack due process rights (notice of transfer and the opportunity to contest it), which the proposed legislation provides.

(3) The system the Court approved in Ohio is in some ways more protective of prisoner rights than our legislation. The Ohio system, for example, includes a pre-transfer hearing and three levels of review; if a prisoner wins at any level, that's the end of the Department's attempt to transfer him to the supermax.

MISTAKE 5: Misleading summary of HB2633.

Tribune: We hope that the governor's move helps to defuse a push for legislation that would force the Corrections Department's hand on Tamms. The bill would limit terms at Tamms to one year in almost all cases, bar the state from transferring mentally ill inmates there and force quarterly reviews of each inmate's case.

Correction: According to the legislation, terms at Tamms would not be limited to one year if the IDOC determined that the prisoner posed a significant risk to staff or other inmates. Quarterly reviews of inmates already take place, but are merely pro forma. The idea of a presumptive, one-year limit is in keeping with Governor Edgar's 1993 Task Force Report recommendation that the supermax be a short-term placement. When the prison opened, IDOC officials claimed that length of stays would be one year. Mississippi and Ohio have presumptive one-year limits on placement in their supermax prisons.

MISTAKE 6: "The legislation imposes arbitrary limits on the IDOC."

Tribune: The proposed legislation would arbitrarily limit the Corrections Department's authority to use Tamms as an option to maintain control in the prison system.

Correction: The legislation does just the opposite: it creates clear criteria and standards for transfers, but allows the IDOC near complete discretion to keep prisoners who pose a risk. It ends the IDOC's arbitrariness.

MISTAKE 7: "It is a risk to curb IDOC discretion."

Tribune: It's a risky idea, though, to curb the Corrections Department's flexibility by state law.

Correction: The bill allows IDOC tremendous flexibility to keep people in Tamms. (See MISTAKE 5.) Nevertheless, the idea of the state law comes from the original Task Force Report, which specified that: "our Super-Max facility be required by statute to conform to certain requirements concerning constitutional and humanitarian safeguards." It was considered a risk not to curb IDOC discretion, since "these highly restrictive environments, if misused, can create conditions tantamount to long-term isolation." The report also warned, "To serve its purpose, inmates must move in and out based on some objective classification and standards." One third of the prisoners now at Tamms have been there since the facility opened eleven years ago, clear evidence that the IDOC has drifted far from the original legislative mandate for this prison.

MISTAKE 8: "If it doesn't affect very many people then . . . "

Tribune: Illinois has sent 541 prisoners to Tamms in 11 years, according to Corrections Department figures. That's just .14 of 1 percent of the people who have gone to prison in that time. (Tamms' population usually hovers around 250.)

Long-term isolation is a violation of human rights, whether the number of victims is 500 or 5,000. And it is contrary to the goals of public safety and effective management.

It is unclear what the editors intended to imply by quoting this statistic. However, we do know that the IDOC frequently presents this number as evidence of their restraint and discretion in the use of the supermax, which it is not: the only way to insure discretion is to establish clear criteria and due process. Furthermore, a pending lawsuit indicates that many of these prisoners may have been sent to Tamms in retaliation for filing grievances against the IDOC. In addition, most of the long-term prisoners have no disciplinary history that would warrant a trip to Tamms.

MISTAKE 9: Narrow assessment of the Tamms controversy.

Tribune: The Tamms controversy focuses on long-term inmates - 156 people in the prison have been there for more than eight years, including 69 who have been there for more than a decade.

Correction: The controversy is much broader. It concerns: 1) the fact that long-term isolation is a form of torture; 2) the lack of due process, transparency, and standards in transferring men to or from Tamms; 2) the special cruelty of subjecting seriously mentally ill prisoners to isolation; 3) the danger of returning to society men who have been isolated for years; 4) the great expense to Illinois taxpayers for questionable results; and 5) the fact that the IDOC has defied original legislative intent in the operation of Tamms - it was intended for short-term placement, and there were supposed to be humanitarian safeguards by statute to avoid long-term isolation, considered a misuse of this facility. NOTE: Our numbers indicate that 87 people have been at Tamms for more than a decade.

MISTAKE 10: "Tamms has curbed gang violence across Illinois prisons."

Tribune: Tamms has allowed the department to regain control over a prison system that had been virtually taken over by criminal gangs. Many of the long-term Tamms inmates are still active or trying to be active with gangs, even if they've committed no violent acts.

Correction: Gang violence in prisons has been steadily declining since 1996, when IDOC implemented system-wide reforms. But Tamms didn't open until 1998, and there's no evidence that its opening caused so much as a blip in gang violence. The Tribune's assertion that some long-term Tamms inmates are still active gang members, no doubt obtained from IDOC, is not backed up by any verifiable information. It is also defies common sense. How can prisoners in 24 hour per day solitary confinement, whose letters are censored, and who lack contact visits or access to phone calls, remain active gang members?

MISTAKE 11: "Supermaxes deter violence."

Tribune: Tamms is an ugly place. But the other Illinois prisons could get much uglier - and more dangerous for guards and inmates - if this legislation is passed.

Correction: This is not supported by facts. States that have sharply reduced their supermax populations, such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi and others, have reported no concomitant increase in prison or other violence.

MISTAKE 12: Failure to address mentally ill prisoners at Tamms.

Tribune:

Correction: The Tribune neither acknowledges the cruelty of housing mentally ill prisoners at Tamms, nor defends the practice of sending them there. Prisoners with pre-existing mental illness are especially prone to the disorders that strike prisoners in all supermax facilities: hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis, and self-harming behaviors. Isolated from human contact and from other markers of the human world, they lack the ability to engage in "social reality testing" and become increasing estranged from reality.This is true of prisoners with both Axis I and Axis two psychological disorders. Exclusion of the seriously mentally ill is a major element of HB2633.

The recent, unexplained death of a mentally ill prisoner at is emblematic of failures at the supermax. Robert Foor, incarcerated for residential burglary, had lived at Tamms Correctional Center for 10 years where his behavior worsened, marked by frequent acts of self-mutilation. According to a grievance written just three weeks before his death in June, Foor stated that Tamms staff had withheld medications and therapy since March as punishment for filing a grievance against the IDOC's contracted psychiatrist. (The IDOC concedes that he was not on medication.) Foor was 33 years old and would have been paroled in 2012.

MISTAKE 13: Failure to talk to the advocates.

Tribune:

Correction: The Tribune editorial board talked extensively with, and quoted from, IDOC officials. But no one on the editorial board talked to advocates of the new legislation. We believe this is indicative of a bias in favor of big government bureaucracies and against grassroots organizations.

Finding out what the "other side" has to say should be fundamental to a news-gathering organization. In this case, it would have helped the board write an informed editorial, and created the appearance of considering both points of view.

*

The original editorial, reprinted in full here because I could not find it online.

Getting out of Tamms

May 13, 2009

Tamms Correctional Center, Illinois' only "super-max" prison, has been controversial almost from the day it opened 11 years ago in the small town of the same name at the far southern tip of the state. Tamms was built to house what its first warden, George Welborn, called the "worst of the worst" - violent and disruptive prisoners who posed a danger to other inmates and guards.

"Conditions are harsh - and meant to be," the Tribune's Gary Marx wrote earlier this year after he was allowed a rare visit inside the prison. "For at least 23 hours a day, prisoners sit in solitary confinement. ... There is no mess hall - meals are shoved through a chuckhole in cell doors. Contact with the outside world is sharply restricted. ... There are no jobs and limited educational opportunities." Officially, it is called a "CMAX" prison, which stands for "closed maximum security." Just mention "Tamms" and every prisoner in Illinois knows what you're talking about.

Tamms has been the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging prisoner abuse and today is the target of a legislative attempt to alter who gets sent there and for how long.

Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday that he will appoint a new head of the Illinois Department of Corrections this week and the new boss will review how prisoners are treated at Tamms. That's good. You would expect any prison director to regularly review operations at a place as tough as a super-max prison.

We hope that the governor's move helps to defuse a push for legislation that would force the Corrections Department's hand on Tamms. The bill would limit terms at Tamms to one year in almost all cases, bar the state from transferring mentally ill inmates there and force quarterly reviews of each inmate's case. The premise behind the bill is that there are no clear rules for getting in and out of Tamms and that is unfair and psychologically damaging to prisoners.

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.

Illinois has sent 541 prisoners to Tamms in 11 years, according to Corrections Department figures. That's just .14 of 1 percent of the people who have gone to prison in that time. (Tamms' population usually hovers around 250.) Many Tamms inmates serve their time, learn to modify their violent or disruptive behavior and transfer out. But not everybody gets the message - 38 inmates have served two stints, two inmates have been in three times and one has been sent there four, count 'em, four times.

The Tamms controversy focuses on long-term inmates - 156 people in the prison have been there for more than eight years, including 69 who have been there for more than a decade.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Julie Hamos, and critics such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are well-intentioned. They argue that the prison was intended to be used to modify prisoner behavior during stays of a year or less. Keeping prisoners there indefinitely without giving them clear rules to get out is unfair and cruel, they say.

It's a risky idea, though, to curb the Corrections Department's flexibility by state law. Tamms has allowed the department to regain control over a prison system that had been virtually taken over by criminal gangs. Many of the long-term Tamms inmates are still active or trying to be active with gangs, even if they've committed no violent acts.

"They know exactly why they're being held. They know how they can get out of Tamms," said state Rep. Jim Sacia, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement who opposes the bill.

The bill would arbitrarily limit the Corrections Department's authority to use Tamms as an option to maintain control in the prison system.

A similar issue arose in a legal battle over placement of inmates in Ohio's "super-max" prison. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2005 that the state's "first obligation must be to ensure the safety of guards and prison personnel, the public and prisoners themselves." The justices determined that "courts must give substantial deference to prison management decisions" against the "brutal reality of prison gangs. ... Prolonged confinement in supermax may be the state's only option for the control of some inmates."

Tamms is an ugly place. But the other Illinois prisons could get much uglier - and more dangerous for guards and inmates - if this legislation is passed.

*

Photo and video by Ten Years Tamms.



Permalink

Posted on July 13, 2009


MUSIC - Britney's IUD.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - Locked Out And Loaded.

BOOKS - Foxconned.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Don't Let Your Pet OD.


Search The Beachwood Reporter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Email:

Follow BeachwoodReport on Twitter



Beachwood Radio!