[Ppnews] The End of Tamms Supermax

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 9 15:18:25 EST 2013

  The End of Tamms Supermax

January 9, 2013 By Jean Casella and James Ridgeway 

As the new year began, the notorious Tamms state supermax in southern 
Illinois closed its doors forever. The closure marked the end of a 
decade-long effort that combined legal and political pressure with press 
exposes and tireless grassroots organizing. One excellent recaps of this 
effort and its remarkable outcome was published by /In These Times/, 
here <http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/14302/supermax_showdown/>. Two 
more can be found on ACLU's Blog of Rights, here 
and here 
The second piece, quoted below, is by Alan Mills, Legal Director of the 
Uptown People's Law Center, which played a pivotal role in opposing Tamms.

    *Put simply, men were sent to Tamms to disappear. *

    Tamms was sold to the public as necessary to control the "worst of
    the worst
    prisoners in Illinois. Yet when it opened in 1998, the majority of
    prisoners had virtually no disciplinary history at all.
    Rather, Tamms was populated by men who had sued the Department,
    filed grievances, and otherwise complained about illegal conduct by
    prison officials---wardens were looking for a way to get rid of
    these headaches. Other men transferred to Tamms had long histories
    of mental illness
    had never been treated in prison. Many were sent to Tamms because
    someone had claimed, at some point in the past, that they were gang
    leaders---even though most had never been found guilty of any gang
    activity. When the Uptown People's Law Center
    <http://www.facebook.com/UptownPeoplesLawCenter> challenged the
    placement of our clients in Tamms, we were told that these men were
    not entitled to a hearing, and would not be told why they had been
    sent to Tamms.

    Some of these men have spent the last 15 years in complete and total
    solitary confinement
    at Tamms.

    *Tamms officially closes its doors today, first and foremost because
    the men sent there did not disappear.* Rather than buckle under the
    extreme psychological pressure of solitary confinement, they banded
    together, fought back, and reached out and educated and organized
    their families and friends.

    Let me tell you how they did it.

    Like other "supermax" facilities, Tamms was designed to ensure that
    prisoners could be housed in complete isolation
    coming in contact with another prisoner, and only rarely coming in
    contact with staff. There is no dining hall; there is no chapel;
    there is no library; there are no classrooms; there is no yard.
    Breakfast, lunch and dinner are brought to prisoners in their
    cells---passed through a slot in a steel door. Medical and mental
    health care is generally provided through the cell door---with no
    privacy, and minimal ability for medical professionals to examine or
    even conduct a meaningful conversation with the men they are
    supposed to be caring for.

    In a brave act, the men at Tamms initiated a prison-wide hunger
    in 2000. They asked for such simple things as shoes to wear outside
    that would protect their feet; the right to clean their own showers;
    and for other activities to productively occupy their time. The vast
    majority of prisoners refused meals the first day; dozens refused
    meals for a week; three lasted over 30 days

    The Uptown People's Law Center <http://www.uplcchicago.org/> reached
    out to the family and friends of the men at Tamms, and helped them
    form the Tamms Committee <http://www.yearten.org/>. Initially this
    was a support group---they arranged bus trips to visit men at Tamms
    (it is impossible to get to Tamms by public transit). In 2008, the
    Tamms Committee joined with other activists and became the Tamms
    Year Ten <http://www.facebook.com/tammsyearten> campaign. *Once the
    families started meeting together, it became clear that the problem
    wasn't the men at Tamms; the problem was that Tamms was torture.* 
    The Law Center joined this initiative, and together we pitched a
    statute that would prohibit the transfer of mentally ill men to
    Tamms; provide due process hearings to everyone sent to Tamms; and
    provide a clear path out of Tamms.

    Alongside this impressive advocacy, the Law Center was litigating a
    class action to aid those imprisoned at Tamms (/Westefer v. Snyder
    On July 20, 2010, the District Court issued its opinion
    finding that every prisoner who had been transferred to Tamms since
    it opened had been denied a hearing which complied with the minimum
    requirements of due process. The court ordered that every man be
    given a hearing, and a written explanation of the reason he was sent
    to Tamms. Hearings were held, and many of the men who had spent
    years at Tamms were finally transferred out. These hearings also
    forced the Department to reexamine who was at Tamms, and why they
    were still there. The answer turned out to be that most did not need
    to be at Tamms at all.

    All of this hard work culminated in 2012, when Governor Quinn
    announced his budget for the coming year---and included no money to
    operate Tamms

    Through the combined efforts of all of these individuals and groups,
    and most importantly, the resistance of the men at Tamms, we were
    able to capture the attention of the public, legislators, and the
    Governor and get this torture chamber closed

    Two of the last men out in December, 2012, were also two of the
    first men to arrive at Tamms in March, 1998. They survived almost 15
    years in total isolation. While closing Tamms is a tremendous
    victory, we cannot forget the terrible price paid by human beings as
    a result of this 15 year experiment in torture.

For more background, see "Trapped in Tamms 
<http://www.bnd.com/trapped-in-tamms/>," the groundbreaking series 
published in the /Belleville News-Democrat, /as well as our earlier 
Tamms in/ Mother Jones./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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