Supermax prisons have been a growth industry in the United States since at least 1989, when California opened its notorious lockup at Pelican Bay. Today, at least 44 states and the federal government maintain supermax prisons where upwards of 25,000 inmates are confined to small cells 23/7. Despite the high cost of solitary confinement and a growing movement that denounces this kind of long-term isolation as a form of torture, supermax prisons just keep on opening. They rarely ever close.
That's why Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn made big news last Wednesday when he proposed closing the state's notorious Tamms supermax. The proposal is part of a package of deep spending cuts to nearly all areas of state government, which Quinn called a "rendezvous with reality."
Tamms holds nearly 200 prisoners in long-term isolation under conditions that have been denounced as torturous.