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Tamms Supermax Prison Still Racks Up Overtime Costs [UPDATED]

By aaroncynic in News on Dec 4, 2012 4:40PM

UPDATE 12/5: The AFSCME says the Belleville News-Democrat used incorrect information in its report. A spokesman told Chicagoist that while the News-Democrat showed $884,000 in overtime, the actual figures are less than half that, $425,000. Furthermore, the union does not support regular reliance on overtime as it can exhaust the employees.

The report's other key claim that Tamms has more guards than inmates was also misleading. The AFSCME says there are 234 inmates at Tamms and about 50 security staff are on duty each shift.

One of the prisons Gov. Pat Quinn has been fighting to close is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime costs for guards. The Belleville News Democrat reports the Tamms Supermax prison in Alexander County currently has more guards than prisoners (208 to 138) and has billed $884,000 in overtime costs for the year.

Inmates at the facility are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and are not allowed contact with other prisoners. The prison employs some 300 people total, which includes employees at a minimum security facility adjacent that houses 89 inmates.

At present levels, it costs $85,000 per year to guard one prisoner, excluding overtime. That's a 32 percent higher rate than the Illinois Department of Corrections estimate of $64,000. Furthermore, the estimate was based on prior inmate populations, but the prison is now two-thirds empty. In other Illinois prisons, it costs roughly between $15,000 and $24,000 per year to house inmates.

State legislators seemed surprised by news of the cost. State Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) asked the News-Democrat, “Who’s running things down there? I never heard about any of this.” Tim Gravette, a prison consultant, blamed the American Federation of State,County and Municipal Employees, the union which represents the prison workers. Gravette told the News-Democrat, “What you have is a union issue. These numbers sure look excessive to me. There are more correctional officers than are needed for security.”

Even advocates who’ve urged the closing of Tamms over human rights violations criticized the cost. Laurie Jo Reynolds, head of the Tamms Year Ten Committee, said, "Welcome to the AFSCME prison state: 16 food supervisors microwave packaged meals, two full-time GED instructors see no students, and 13 nurses monitor men on suicide watch due to sensory deprivation. Meanwhile, the full security staff guards a two-thirds empty prison."