Reforms Needed at Tamms Supermax Prison


Reform is badly needed at the Tamms Supermax Prison for the “egregious abuses” to inmates occurring there, according to Tamms Year Ten (TY10), an activist and prisoner support group.

TY10 reported on Sept. 23 that since the opening of the prison on March 8, 1998, “Allegations of torture and lack of due process have dogged the prison.”

Most of the 210 inmates at Tamms “are kept in permanent solitary confinement, fed through a slot in the cell door, denied phone calls to family, and have no access to rehabilitative or communal programming, including religious services.”

They added that some of the men at the prison have been kept in “solitary confinement for years—many for a decade” and noted reports of “insanity, self-mutilation and suicide attempts” at the Supermax.

The prison, also known as “Tamms C-Max,” located in Tamms, Illinois, consists of 500 single 8 feet by 10 feet concrete cement cells, stainless steel sinks, toilets and mirrors, with a hard to reach window that cannot be opened, according to information at

“The CMAX facility houses an execution chamber for administering lethal injections and houses the most disruptive and violent inmates, deemed unsafe to house with the general prison population,” according to Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia.

TY10 said the super-maximum prison was designed as “a short behavioral-modification” facility, but “more than a third of the population had been held there a full decade” which raised concern among legislators that the prison had strayed far from its original purpose.

“88 men have been at Tamms since the prison opened 10 years ago and are being held indefinitely,” according to a report issued by the MacArthur Justice Center in October.

Jean Maclean Snyder, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center who has represented mentally ill prisoners from Tamms, “emphasized the short-sightedness of indefinite terms of isolation” for the prisoners in a press release.

“Total solitary confinement for years at a time, with no end in sight, is a form of psychological torture and often leads to mental illness,” she stated.

Snyder estimated that nearly a third of current prisoners will be released to their communities in the next 10 years, after years in isolation, and may not be ready for society.

“When some of these men finally do return to society, they will be worse off than before they went in,” she said.

TY10 reported that in response to the criticism and organizing from activists and prisoner support groups and the introduction of the Supermax Reform Bill, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) acknowledged problems at the southern Illinois facility and agreed to meet with members of TY10 and sympathetic legislators.

That meeting took place on October 10 with Illinois Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) and other state officials. The meeting was followed by a hearing at the Bilandic building at 160 N. LaSalle Ave.

At the hearing, top IDOC officials discussed possible reforms at Tamms prison with advocates “who have sought to achieve more humane conditions at the prison.”

According to the MacArthur Justice Center, the “reformers are hoping that these discussions will lead to major policy changes, including regulations about why someone is sent to the supermax, for how long, and how they can earn their way out.”

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