The Illinois budget crisis could be driving inmates to drink, a prisons official said Tuesday.
Corey Knop told lawmakers he's seen more bootleg alcohol at the prison in Sumner than at any time in his nearly two decades with the Department of Corrections.
Knop blames a change in juice vendors necessitated by a 2½-year stalemate over a budget in which providers sometimes jilted the state after years of nonpayment.
Under the new vendor, the beverages served in Illinois prisons have a higher juice content than they did before, making it easier for inmates to turn them into alcohol, Knop said.
"DOC doesn't even consider it a reportable offense unless there's 5 gallons. Can you imagine having 5 gallons of alcohol in a population like that?" asked Knop, who works at Lawrence Correctional Center, 260 miles south of Chicago.
"Having alcohol in a prison is a crime, it's not just against the rules. We don't even send them in segregation anymore," he said.
A Corrections Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The House Appropriations-Public Safety Committee convened in Chicago to review complaints by the prison employees' union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 , that inmate assaults on prison staff have spiked in part because punishments have been curtailed.
Knop contended a vendor delivering drinks with 10 percent juice — not enough to produce the hooch — stopped delivery for lack of payment while the state was without a budget for two years before last summer.
Corrections officials found a new vendor whose product is 100 percent juice.
He did not elaborate, but homemade alcohol recipes say 100 percent juice products are necessary with sugar, yeast — and several days' time to ferment — to yield the desired effect.
Knop made the claim as part of a safety campaign AFSCME began in October when the union produced numbers showing a 51 percent increase in inmate assaults from 2015 to 2017.
It contends that Corrections is cutting costs by putting violent prisoners in less-costly but less-secure facilities; imposing less-severe punishments, including far less use of segregation; and equipment breakdowns exacerbated by budget turmoil.
Corrections Director John Baldwin did not address the bootleg alcohol. He told the committee that inmates are stepped down to lower-level prisons based on behavior and the proximity of their release dates.
He said discipline remains "robust" and that use of segregation is largely driven by federal court cases and other decrees regarding treatment of seriously mentally ill inmates. He said all department employees have received training approved by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at @APOConnor.