Tamms Correctional Center

Summary: It need not be this harsh

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. 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.

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 sets 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. Download the report here. 

Vital Statistics 

  • C-Max Population: 181
  • C-Max Rated Capacity: 500
  • Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $64,805
  • Average Age: 41 
  • Source: DOC

Key Findings

  • It costs almost $65,000 per year to house an inmate at Tamms—the highest cost of any DOC facility.
  • Most inmates spend 23 to 24 hours alone in their cells without social interaction, human contact, or sensory stimulation. This state of isolation can extend for months, years or indefinitely. Some Tamms inmates have spent more than a decade in this isolation.
  • Approximately 18 percent of Tamms inmates are 50 years or older.
  • While Tamms offers no re-entry programs, the majority of its inmates will be released and returned to the community.
  • In observing, visiting, and communicating with Tamms inmates, JHA found evidence of inmates suffering deleterious effects to their mental and physical health related to long-term isolation.
  • JHA found that Tamms’ staff are not given adequate training, strategies, resources, and professional support to assist them in managing and interacting with mentally ill and self-injuring inmates.
  • At its peak, Tamms held 287 inmates in C-Max. At the start of 2010, it held 265 inmates. On November 9, 2010, the date of JHA’s last visit, Tamms held 207 inmates. At the time of JHA’s most recent visit, that number had dropped by almost 30, for a total of about 180 inmates.
  • According to DOC Director Godinez’s Closure Recommendations, Tamms’ staff will be offered positions in nearby facilities that suffer from chronic understaffing, minimizing job loss.

Read JHA's 2011 report on Tamms here.

Read The Chicago Sun-Times' and The Belleville News Democrat's coverage of JHA's Tamms report.