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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Tamms Supermax

The SJ-R ran an AP story today on our Supermax prison in Tamms, Illinois.

Tamms supermax: Expensive, but is it necessary?
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.

But, it's more like $92,000 per prisoner. That's about triple the rate for minimum security prisoners.

I blogged about Tamms last summer (here). Of course, the people who run the prison say Tamms works. Some even say it works just by virtue of its existence:

[IDOC director] 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.

I thought this was strange:

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 question still remains, in my mind, is Tamms the best way to treat these prisoners? Who do we trust? The people who run the place, or experts on the outside? On another note, one of the commenters, "bartelby," from my other Tamms blog post turns out to be:

... 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.

As he made an appearance in the comments in the AP article under the same handle, where he asks the question:

Does it take an expert on prisons or a moral philosopher to know that it is wrong to spend 90k per year to drive men mad by a system of imprisonment that Federal Judge Thelton Henderson charitably called: 'on the edge of human tolerability' and that psychiatrist after psychiatrist call torture?

What do other states do?

Photo: Tamms protest graffiti in Chicago by my friend, Seth.

Posted by Marie at January 3, 2010 7:50 PM


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