Prisoners at Tamms supermax today filed a motion asking to be allowed to present evidence that Tamms confinement causes serious mental harm. The prisoners’ cited extensive findings by the federal court sitting in East St. Louis (The Honorable J. Patrick Murphy, presiding) that the long-term isolation imposed on prisoners at Tamms causes a deterioration of prisoners’ mental health. Judge Murphy fur…ther found that the negative effects of Tamms confinement continues even after a prisoner is transferred out of Tamms back to other maximum security prisons such as Pontiac.
The prisoners also cite testimony by Dr. Terry Kupers, Dr. Stuart Grassian, and Dr. Craig Haney–all nationally recognized experts on the mental health effects of supermax confinement–all describing the deteriorated mental state of prisoners held in supermax isolation, as documented in numerous studies nationwide.
Finally, the prisoners cite the findings of the United Nations Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan E. Méndez, who found that 15 days in isolation constitutes torture which is condemned under international law. The prisoners note that all of them have spent more than 15 months in isolation at Tamms, and that some have spent almost 15 years in isolation.
The prisoners filed their motion in a case filed by AFSCME, the union representing the guards at Tamms, which asked the Circuit Court in Alexander County to stop the Department of Corrections from closing Tamms until various collective bargaining negotiations are completed. On August 17th, the Judge entered an order barring the Department from transferring prisoners (including the prisoners who joined this motion) out of Tamms until at least August 31st.
Alan Mills, the Legal Director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, which represents the prisoners, stated:
We believe that the Court has committed a grave legal error by refusing to hear testimony of the harm which will be caused by the order it entered last week. The prisoners at Tamms are the ones who will be most directly impacted by this order. Basic fairness requires that their voice be heard before the Court makes a decision which will cause them further unnecessary pain, suffering, and long term damage to their mental health.