What is Tamms?

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Tamms Super Maximum Correctional
Center, which opened in March 1998, is
Illinois’ only “Supermax” prison. It is
located at the southern tip of Illinois,
originally opened under the guise of
being for short-term incarceration.
• There is no bus service to the prison.
There’s no way for family or friends to get
to Tamms without a car. Visits hardly ever
happen, and visitors only see inmates
through a Plexiglas wall. Inmates in disciplinary
segregation are additionally handcuffed,
shackled, and chained to a cement
stump throughout the entire visit.
• Tamms inmates are not allowed to make
any phone calls unless there is a death in
the family, and even then may have to go
on a hunger strike to get it. Even at Florence
ADX, the federal supermax prison
where convicted al-Qaeda terrorists are
imprisoned, inmates are allowed to
make one phone call each month.
• No one is sent to Tamms for the crime they
were incarcerated for. Criteria for placement
at Tamms are currently so vague that every
prisoner in the Illinois Department of Corrections
is eligible. Decisions to send men to
Tamms are secret and not open to review.
Men are not given placement forms and
many do not know why they are there. A
number of men have life without parole sentences
and don’t know if they will ever be
released from Tamms to general population.
• Every man at Tamms Supermax is kept
in solitary confinement. Men never leave
their cell except to shower and exercise
in a concrete room. Meals come through
a slot in their cell door. Men at Tamms
eat alone, pray alone, and walk the yard
alone. Tamms keeps strict limits on the
amount of personal property men can
keep. This includes family photos, letters
and Christmas cards.
• Long-term solitary confinement causes
mental illness. Suicide attempts, selfmutilation,
smearing of feces, and
severe psychological illnesses are common
at Tamms.
• Just 3 months in solitary confinement
has detrimental effects. Yet 100 men have
been there since April of 1999. The other
men at Tamms have been there for years
and years on end. When proposing the
creation of Tamms the Illinois legislature
was told that it would be used solely as a
sort of shock treatment for periods of
one year for the “worst of the worst.”
• Taxpayers pay about $90,000 per year
to keep a man at Tamms—over four
times the cost of other state prisons.
There is no clear benefit for this
expense. Nor for the court costs
incurred to defend against the numerous
lawsuits for violations of these
inmates’ constitutional rights.

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