Prison workers will fight to save their jobs


Kendall Downing

TAMMS, Ill. — For 300 employees at the Tamms Correctional Center, every day is now a waiting game. In his budget address Wednesday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn proposed closing the state's only supermax prison to save more than $26 million.

Alexander County leaders describe the governor's move as shocking, since the facility, one of the largest employers in the county, is only 15 years old.

Employees are already planning to cause a scene to save it.

"They're ready to start the petition drives. They're ready to start the sign drives. They're getting their communities involved," said Lt. Toby Oliver, union president.

For Oliver, his job at Tamms is personal.

"I was assaulted by an inmate and stabbed four times just by telling him no," said Oliver.

Oliver was attacked at the state's Stateville prison. He understands how violent other Illinois prisons can be and said Tamms is needed to keep those facilities safe.

"These inmates can be safely housed at Tamms and we can control them at Tamms. Other places, we couldn't," said Oliver.

Alexander County Commissioner Harold McNelly said the governor's proposal was a surprise.

"Here we were just a few years ago going to meetings to get this prison in. We got it in and everybody was jubilant about it. Now you suddenly get this shock," said McNelly.

McNelly said the cards are stacked against the struggling county. They can't lose another employer.

"This county's taken all the hits it can take. Our back is completely against the wall and there's nowhere else to turn," said McNelly.

Toby Oliver believes the closing could be the last straw for the area.

"It's just not me that's losing my job. It's the entire community that loses out," said Oliver.

Oliver said employees plan to start a Facebook page when their rallying campaign begins. He said they want to educate the public about why Tamms needs to stay open for the safety of prisons across Illinois.