Tamms Correctional Center

Tamms Correctional Center

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Tamms Correctional Center, now closed, once was the state’s highest security prison, often referred to as Tamms Supermax. Tamms was a male prison located approximately 360 miles south and west of Chicago.

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Nearly all states operate a supermax prison reserved for gang leaders or inmates who are extraordinarily disruptive and dangerous. Typically they include inmates who have attempted to kill staff or other inmates, have organized gangs to challenge prison management, or who have proven to be exceptionally destructive. Although conditions vary widely at the nation’s supermax prisons, they are often characterized by years of solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, extremely aggressive security measures and long-term physical and social isolation of inmates. This was the case at Tamms.


Special Reports

In “A Price Illinois Cannot Afford: Tamms and The Costs of Long-Term Isolation,” the John Howard Association offers an unprecedented analysis of the operations and policies of Illinois’ only supermax prison. This special report was based in part on a March 2012 visit that followed Governor Quinn’s proposal to close Tamms. The report set out JHA’s findings with respect to conditions of inmates housed in the facility's closed maximum security unit (C-Max), considerations regarding Tamms’ proposed closure, and the costs and consequences of long-term isolation.


Monitoring Reports

Executive Summary

On Nov. 9 a group of John Howard Association board members, staff and volunteers conducted a monitoring tour of Tamms Correctional Center, the state’s highest security prison often referred to as Tamms Supermax. Tamms is a male prison located approximately 360 miles south and west of Chicago.

Nearly all states operate a supermax prison reserved for gang leaders or inmates who are extraordinarily disruptive and dangerous. Typically they include inmates who have attempted to kill staff or other inmates, have organized gangs to challenge prison management, or who have proven to be exceptionally destructive.

Prison management says that removing such individuals from ordinary prisons makes life there more tolerable and safe for inmates and staff.

Although conditions vary widely at the nation’s supermax prisons, they are often characterized by years of solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, extremely aggressive security measures and long-term physical and social isolation of inmates. This is the case at Tamms.

Supermax inmates frequently suffer from mental illness. At Tamms, this often manifests itself in inmates cutting themselves, a practice staff tries but is unable to prevent.

While Tamms has implemented some policies intended to lessen the harshness of life within its walls, it also has some practices certain to increase inmate discomfort.

Although the practice is not routine, inmates dressed in nothing but paper gowns can be held in utterly empty cells for days at a time. Others are denied normal meals and instead fed a diet exclusively of “meal loaf,” a concoction of soy, vegetables, meat and bread that resembling bland stuffing. These are authorized techniques for controlling inmate behavior.

The prison is intentionally devoid of color or other visual stimulation. Inmates are usually unable to talk with one another. At best, they spend 23 hours a day alone within their cells. At worst, they can be confined to their cells 24 hours a day for three months as a disciplinary measure.

Like its counterparts around the nation, Tamms is frequently criticized for maltreatment of inmates. There are 23 pending federal lawsuits against Tamms, according to prison management. Earlier this year a federal judge ruled that inmates sent to Tamms could challenge their transfer to the prison. The judge concluded that conditions at the prison endanger the psychiatric well being of long-term inmates.

This report examines current conditions at Tamms.