The Tamms supermax prison is closing, though some want to see it re-open as a medium-security facility. The prison has been criticized since it opened in 1998 for its solitary confinement practices. Prisoners are isolated from contact with other prisoners and are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day, and are allowed one hour for exercise.

The governor’s office announced this week that Tamms will close by Aug. 31, even though lawmakers allocated money to keep it open. The Department of Corrections could re-open the facility as a medium-security prison.

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State Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) says about $8 million of Tamms’ appropriated $26 million in Fiscal Year 2013 could be used for repurposing.

Laurie Reynolds, an advocate of closing Tamms, says the he facility was designed to keep prisoners segregated, and making changes could be challenging and costly. “It seems like it would be cumbersome to start moving men through all the security zones to get in and out of the facility to get to a cafeteria or a yard that is constructed on the ground,” Reynolds says.

But State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) says Tamms is located in an area that’s poverty-stricken, and the people can’t afford to lose high-paying prison jobs. The prison is Alexander County’s biggest employer.

“They’ve been through enough,” Phelps says. “They’ve had the floods, extreme poverty. Now if you try to take away their biggest employer that’s just going to be the end of Alexander County.”

(Copyright WBGZ Radio/