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State Police Investigate Illinois Prison Industry

According to a highly critical report by the Illinois Auditor General's office released April 21, 1999, a tire recycling industry at the Downstate Lincoln Corr. Center provided up to $325,000 in free recycling services to private businesses over a 2-year period. It is unclear who benefited from the deals because they were informal barter agreements.

Internal prison auditors discovered problems at the tire recycling industry last year and referred the matter to the state police, which began an investigation. Police and prison officials have declined to name the companies that received free services; they also refused to reveal what was bartered in exchange for the tire recycling.

"Correctional Industries has been a program that is not run very well," said Auditor General William Holland. "And it's not just a single item. It's across the board."

Illinois Correctional Industries (ICI) employs about 1,600 prisoners in a variety of programs that include farming, sewing clothes, baking bread, making furniture and recycling tires. The Dept. of Corrections sells the products to state agencies and private companies. In 1998 ICI made a $3.8 million profit, though auditors have questioned why the agency did not collect $280,000 in state sales tax.

The Auditor General's office reported other troublesome findings in reviews of 34 facilities and programs in the Illinois DOC. For example, prison officials reportedly gave $22,000 worth of free merchandise such as T-shirts, baseball caps and cups to unidentified non-profit organizations, state employees and state agencies.

"It looks as if it was run like a private fiefdom," said state Rep. Tom Dart. "It looks as if, if you knew certain people, you'd get free services, and some of the stuff is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Sources: The Chicago Tribune, Corrections Digest

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