There are more guards than inmates at the largely empty maximum security section at Tamms Correctional Center in Alexander County.
Tamms has 208 guards and supervisors in its maximum-security or C-max section to handle 138 prisoners, for a security-staff-to-inmate ratio of 1.5-to-1. At Alcatraz in the 1940s, by comparison, the ratio was 1-to-3, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
The staffing is spread over three shifts, but guard-to-inmate ratios are usually calculated by comparing the overall prison population to the overall security staff.
The Tamms security staff also clocked $425,281 in overtime since about this time last year, according to state payroll records for a one-year period ending Nov. 12. Overtime was accrued despite the fact that inmates in the solitary confinement supermax unit are held in their cells 23 hours a day and have no contact with other prisoners.
The actual amount above base salary paid during this same period was at least $884,000, which includes overtime, holiday pay at double time and double time and a half for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Labor Day. Correctional officers also receive roll call pay, or time and a half for being required to show up 15 minutes before a shift starts.
In addition, there are 16 food supervisors earning an average of $71,600 a year working at Tamms. Thats the same number of food supervisors as at the Pontiac Correctional Center, which houses around 1,700 maximum- and medium-security inmates eight times the number of total inmates at Tamms.
In all, there are 300 employees for the entire Tamms operation, which includes an adjacent minimum-security camp with 89 inmates and about 13 security staff, with a combined annual payroll of about $18.7 million, according to figures from the Illinois Department of Corrections. This employee total includes 20 medical employees provided by an outside contractor.
The staffing levels at Tamms C-max surprised several state legislators who said they were unaware of the number of security staff and food supervisors and stated they will ask the legislature to look into the costs.
State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, asked, "Who's running things down there? I never heard about any of this."
A national prison consultant said the Tamms maximum security staffing numbers are more than are needed.
"There's a lot of folks taking advantage of this situation. This (staffing level) is excessive," said Tim Gravette, a retired associate warden with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a Louisiana-based incarceration consultant.
"What you have is a union issue," he said. "These numbers sure look excessive to me. There are more correctional officers than are needed for security."
Earlier this year, Quinn put Tamms on a list of state facilities targeted for closure to save the state money during the budget crisis. An Alexander County judge has temporarily blocked that move.
"To call this facility inefficient is putting it mildly," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.
The News-Democrat published a series of stories in 2009 entitled "Trapped in Tamms" that highlighted civil rights abuses at the prison in deep Southern Illinois, including holding mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement for more than a decade. The governor ordered reforms after the BND's investigative series.
Today, the prison population at Tamms is about half what it was when the News-Democrat first reported on the prison.
At the current 138 C-max inmate population level, it costs aproximately $85,000 just to guard one maximum-security prisoner per year excluding overtime. This is 32 percent higher than the estimated $64,000-per-inmate annual cost for all operational expenditures at Tamms released by IDOC -- a figure based on prior inmate populations of about 240 for the maximum-security unit and about 175 for the minimum-security unit.
Most Illinois prisons have a per-inmate annual cost of between $15,000 and $24,000. It costs about $26.3 million per year to operate both units at Tamms, according to IDOC.
The total cost for medical and mental health services provided by an outside vendor was not available. Nor was a total available for the cost of outside hospitalization needed on numerous occasions when inmates held for lengthy periods in solitary self-mutilated with bits of metal or glass.
The prison employs nine registered nurses, five practical nurses, a medical director, an optometrist and a dentist and three mental health employees. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., is the medical and mental health services vendor.
The current low number of inmates at Tamms resulted from a judge's order this year to freeze transfers until a lawsuit between the guards' union and the governor's office is resolved. A hearing in the lawsuit is set for Dec. 10 in Cook County Circuit Court.
Quinn wants to close Tamms as a budgetary measure. The guards' union -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- contends that closing the prison would make conditions unsafe at other prisons. Tamms holds violent inmates, including several who have killed or injured prison staff.
"This is about safety, not about jobs. It was never about jobs," union spokesman Anders Lindall has said.
Steven Bierig, a state arbitrator agreed upon by both sides in the lawsuit, ruled Oct. 27 after hearing weeks of testimony that it would not cause increased danger to move Tamms inmates to solitary confinement cells at other prisons. Bierig concluded that the closure of Tamms and several other prison units, including the Dwight Correctional Center for women, can legally proceed.
'TWO-THIRDS EMPTY PRISON'
While questions concerning safety have dominated the recent controversy over the proposed closure of Tamms, specific costs to run the state's only supermax lockup have not received wide attention.
Haine, the senator from Alton, recently voted with the Senate majority to override Quinn's veto and restore state funding to keep Tamms open -- a mostly symbolic vote that the governor can ignore.
"I wished I had known about this before the vote," Haine said after learning staffing costs from a reporter.
"It sounds absolutely ludicrous. I wasn't aware of this," said Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Freeport, a member of the House Judiciary II and Appropriations Committee.
"I don't know why there would be 16 food supervisors at Tamms," said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R- Addison, a member of the Prison Reform Committee. "We need to look into these staffing levels."
Meal preparation at Tamms consists mostly of food that is not cooked on the premises but comes in cans or packages from a Florida wholesaler, according to surveys by a prisoner advocacy group.
Laurie Jo Reynolds, head of the Tamms Year Ten Committee that has long opposed the solitary-only prison on humanitarian grounds, criticized the isolation that extends even to education at Tamms, where instructors conduct GED classes through the mail.
"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," she said. "Meanwhile, the full security staff guards a two-thirds empty prison."
PRISON STAFF BY THE NUMBERS
The Tamms C-max security force of 208 consists of 172 guards, 24 lieutenants, eight sergeants and four shift commanders.
Even though communal religious services are not held at Tamms, the prison employs a chaplain at $74,650 per year, according to state payroll records.
There are six counselors who earn an average of $70,000 a year to counsel inmates, including at least 28 who are in their 14th year of solitary confinement.
The payroll also includes a prison laundry manager who is paid $72,912 per year, two electricians at $84,300 each, a plumber who has been paid $90,494 since November 2011, and a carpenter at $68,138 a year.
Warden Gregory S. Lambert earns $93,732 a year and his executive secretary has been paid $54,312 so far this year. The administrative office is staffed by 10 office associates.