Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In the Red in State Slammer Most Prison Industries Lose Money in Illinois

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In the Red in State Slammer Most Prison Industries Lose Money in Illinois

Article excerpt

The crop farmers at the Menard Correctional Center lost $87,000 last year. The prison's pig farmers lost even more, $101,241.

In fact, 32 of the state's 52 prison work programs lose money, according to an audit released Tuesday by Illinois Auditor General William Holland.

One of the more profitable ventures, the knit shop at Menard, made $118,491 for the Illinois Correctional Industries Program. But part of that profit was generated by buying panties and briefs from private manufacturers and reselling them at inflated prices to state prisons.

The auditors found that sometimes convicts didn't make the goods; Correctional Industries bought the items from private manufacturers, marked up the prices as much as 161 percent and resold them to state prisons, generating larger profits for the program.

Over the past two years, Correctional Industries has bought underwear, gloves, milk, broom handles, remanufactured tires and uniforms for prison guards from private manufacturers, the auditors found. Those items were then marked up as much as 161 percent when they were sold primarily to state prisons.

Holland's audit, prompted by a Post-Dispatch investigation, led to calls for an overhaul of Correctional Industries.

"They ought to review their policy for those items that they can't make better or cheaper," said State Sen. Judy Baar Topinka, R-Riverside. "Get rid of those programs that are totally noncompetitive with the private sector and find ones that are. If it doesn't work, why keep it?"

Prison officials say that sometimes it's cheaper to buy finished goods, such as underwear, rather than buy raw materials and have convicts make the goods. But they say they buy finished products only when inmates fall behind in production, usually when they are locked in their cells to quell violence.

Topinka pushed for the audit after the Post-Dispatch reported in November that Correctional Industries bought $160,000 worth of underwear, raised the prices by as much as 161 percent and resold the goods to state prisons. …

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