Though unions are fighting Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's plan to close the Tamms Correctional Center in southern Illinois, relatives of some inmates at the maximum security facility say the "inhumane" prison should be closed.
Supporters and opponents of the closure gathered at a hearing in Ullin, Illinois Monday to speak out on the subject. Union and community members told a state commission that closing Tamms would cost dozens of southern Illinois residents their jobs -- and drain $33 million from the region's economy, The Southern reports.
"Replacing jobs that pay 40, 50, 60,000 dollars in Southern Illinois, is completely different than trying to replace those jobs in northern Illinois," state Rep. Jerry Costello said, according to WSIL.
Safety was also mentioned during the contentious hearing. According to The Southern, more than 20 officers were killed by inmates on the job before Tamms opened. Since then, there have been no officers killed and the number of assaults has fallen. Inmates from Tamms would be moved to the overcrowded Menard facility or Pontiac, which was built in the 1800s.
But critics of the prison say the way inmates are treated at Tamms -- left alone in their cells for at least 23 hours per day -- leads to mental health problems and suicides. According to a 2009 study by the Belleville News-Democrat, 54 Tamms prisoners had been in continuous solitary confinement for more than ten years.
Grace Warren was one of many moms who marched to support the closure of Tamms earlier this week. Her son has been in Tamms for six years on a murder conviction. He faces life in prison.
"They are slowly destroying my son with isolation and the state is going broke in the process," Warren told the Associated Press.
The ACLU has equated the treatment of Tamms prisoners with torture, and said that courts have repeatedly ruled against solitary confinement, calling it "inconsistent with international human rights principles."
Geneva Mullins, whose son was convicted of attempted murder, acknowledged to the Chicago Tribune that her son and other criminals should "pay" for their crimes, but said Tamms takes the punishment too far.
"... you wouldn't treat an animal like this," Mullins told the paper. "It is inhumane."
What it comes down to, however, is money. The state is a financial mess and closing Tamms would save the state $26 million a year.
"Tamms is half full. It's expensive to operate. It has an annual average inmate cost of $54,805. More than three times the state average," Austin Baidas of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget told WSIL.
The Department of Corrections estimated that the actual cost per inmate is closer to $64,805.
The state commission is expected to make a decision on Tamms by May 11, but Quinn could still ignore it and close the prison no matter what the outcome.