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Move mentally ill from Supermax
Letter to the Editor
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Published: 5/31/2008 4:12 PM

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The transfer of mentally ill prisoners from the Tamms Supermax prison, as one of the reforms recently announced by State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) in legislation, HB 6651, could move Illinois out of the constitutional cross-hairs that the prison's mental health policy has created.

Courts have ruled the placement of seriously mentally ill prisoners in a Supermax prison is unconstitutional because the confinement is known to cause severe psychiatric morbidity, disability, suffering and mortality.

Tamms has had a written policy against placing mentally ill inmates at the facility since 1999. However, this policy is only as good as the screening process that implements it.

Our information is similar to that which motivates Rep. Hamos: Mentally ill inmates have been placed at Tamms.

Inmates with serious mental illnesses placed at Tamms have experienced destructive psychological effects because of the long-term isolated confinement of the facility. Some of them self-mutilate themselves or show other evidence of severe mental illness.

The extreme social isolation, severely restricted movement, and an environment that severely restricts stimulation contribute to psychological damage for those suffering mental illnesses.

The combination of Tamms' structural design and its functional program acerbates the risk of psychiatric damage to inmates.

We believe this is unconstitutional. It certainly is inhumane. We hope that the General Assembly approves Rep. Hamos's legislation and transfers the mentally ill out of Tamms without waiting for courts to order such a transfer.

Malcolm C. Young

Executive Director

John Howard Association