by Matt Clarke
As previously reported in PLN, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) closed the Tamms Correctional Center as part of a cost-cutting consolidation of state prisons pushed by then-Governor Pat Quinn in 2013. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.1].
Since then the supermax facility has remained vacant, unventilated and unheated – ideal conditions for unchecked mold growth. On December 5, 2018, DOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess confirmed that both the prison and its associated work camp were “rampant” with mold.
Three years earlier, ExecuClean Restoration issued a report on Tamms that listed high mold content in the medical office hallway, courtroom, library, operations center, mental health hallway, MSU office and dietary area. The report said the mold infestation was caused by a combination of abundant roof leaks and lack of heating or ventilation. Test results indicated “clear fungal amplification of fungal spores of Aspergillus/Penicillin,” which causes “more human health issues worldwide than any other group of fungi.”
Conditions at Tamms when the prison was operational were inhumane. Prisoners were held a minimum of 23 hours a day in 7-by-12 foot concrete solitary cells. They were permitted one hour a day of recreation in another small room, conditioned on good behavior.
Nonetheless, some politicians have called for reopening the facility. Those calls, which were mostly based on the potential economic impact of the reopening, grew louder after the DOC announced plans for a new $150 million prison in Joliet.
“The decision to build a new facility ... is not only fiscally irresponsible, but shows the general ignorance about the economic situation in Southern Illinois,” said Marsha Griffin, who was running for the 115th District of Illinois. “We need jobs and there is a facility that could be easily reopened and repurposed currently sitting vacant.”
“Well, it’s always going to be a hot topic when you have a facility such as the one we have here and as much money is being spent there,” said Lamar Houston, assistant mayor for the small village of Tamms, who recalled the excitement when the prison was being built in the 1990s. “We all had high hopes that it was going to bring business into Tamms and we [could] see our community growing rather than like it is now. We’re not able to get anything at all from the prison. We lost a lot. The city lost a lot.”
Each year, Illinois spends three-quarters of a million dollars for utilities, maintenance and guards at Tamms. The ExecuClean report said mold amelioration would require the removal of all “drywall, carpets, countertops and cabinets ... then the prison would have to be scrubbed and treated with chemicals” to kill the mold. DOC spokeswoman Hess estimated that would cost $2.5 million. Those costs, and the difficulty of repurposing a partially underground supermax prison, mean it would be more practical to have Tamms demolished rather than reopened.
“Tamms should never have been closed. But from the beginning it should’ve been run according to the original rules established for it,” said state Rep. Terri Bryant, a former DOC employee who noted that, despite some prisoners spending a decade there, Tamms was not intended for long-term confinement. “Originally, no one was supposed to go there for more than a year. That was not the place for mental health inmates to be,” she added.
Regardless of the original intent, investigations by watchdog groups depicted Tamms as a “cruel home for mentally ill prisoners, whose condition worsened as they were deprived of social interaction, human contact and sensory stimulation.”
Clearly the world is a better place without Tamms, with or without mold.
Sources: ExecuClean Restoration Mold Inspection Report, thesouthern.com, wsiltv.com
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