In a decision both controversial and courageous, Gov. Pat Quinn has ordered the closing of the Tamms Correctional Center, the state’s infamous supermax prison near the Illinois-Kentucky border.

The announcement by the Governor’s office was considered a major victory for the many proponents of the closing, who have long held that inmates in the prison’s Closed Maximum Security Unit (CMAX) have for years been subjected to treatment and conditions generally held to be inhumane, harmful and unnecessarily harsh, including extended periods – sometimes years – of solitary confinement. According to a recent newspaper report, 54 of the prison’s roughly 250 inmates were held in isolation for more than 10 years, including 38 since the facility was first opened in 1998.

Financial considerations also played a part in the decision, according to the Governor’s budget office spokesperson Kelly Kraft. The closing is expected to save the state about $26 million per year. She said that the 200-bed facility is usually only half full and, at a cost of $84,800 per inmate per year, Tamms was too expensive to operate.

The Illinois Institute for Community Law & Affairs was among many human-rights, prison-reform and prisoner-advocate groups calling for the closure. Lourie Jo Reynolds, of the Tamms Year Ten watchdog group, said, “From the day it opened, Tamms was a financial boondoggle and a human-rights catastrophe.” Rose Sifuentes, whose son has been imprisoned at Tamms for several years, said, “No human being should ever have to endure this type of punishment.”

“Closing Tamms,” said IICLA President James Chapman, “is a great example of what we can accomplish by working together. It took a lot of tireless work by a lot of diligent people, but this shows that changes can be made for the benefit of prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.”

Several studies have pointed out that prolonged periods of solitary confinement have been shown to trigger serious mental illness, sometimes leading inmates to engage in self-mutilation and even to “compulsively attempt suicide.” Amnesty International has long called for an end to isolation imprisonment, and supported the closure.

When Tamms is closed, CMAX inmates will be moved to other facilities, including Pontiac Correctional Center and Menard Correctional Center. Plans include transferring much of the Tamms skilled workforce to nearby facilities, many of which are operating with skeleton crews.