Breakdowns in IDOC Infrastructure

Posted: July 18, 2010 by lactoselazy in IDOC

If you want to know what is currently happening in IL state political and fiscal news and how it affects IDOC and inmates incarcerated in  IL, then you need to be a regular reader of the online Pantagraph Newspaper from Bloomington, IL. The Pantagraph is a smaller state newspaper, but it makes a very good effort to cover issues related to IDOC in more depth and more frequently than the rest of the state newspapers. The Pantagraph is open to original reporting on IDOC issues, such as in the following article published today:

Erickson: There’s plenty to fix in

Illinois — literally

By Kurt Erickson | | Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2010 7:00 am |

Kurt Erickson heads the Lee Enterprises Springfield Bureau, which serves The Pantagraph, The Southern Illinoisan and other Lee newspapers;

 The Sheridan Correctional Center is seen March 2, 2010. At Sheridan, home to 1,400 inmates, the refrigeration units began to fail in June, triggering the need to spend $55,400 on emergency, no-bid repairs so there would be a safe food supply. (Pantagraph file photo/STEVE SMEDLEY)

By now, most Illinoisans should know that the state’s financial situation is grim.

Just since January, the state has borrowed nearly $8 billion to pay bills and stay afloat.

You’ve all heard or witnessed stories about the effects the budget woes are having on services to the mentally disabled, poor and physically disabled.

Many of the budget problems are because of the downturn in the economy, which has forced lawmakers and the governor to prioritize how less money should be distributed across state government.

But the problems also are deeper than that. As any homeowner or car owner knows, it’s generally cheaper to spend money on regular maintenance than to wait for everything to break down.

Yet, for years the state has neglected its own facilities, allowing them to deteriorate. It’s as if the state’s chief executive hid in a bathroom, hoping to avoid bad news and hard decisions.

And now, at the same time the state is running woefully short of money, the bills for some of that crumbling infrastructure are starting come due.

Although breakdowns happen year-round, a rash of problems have hit state facilities in the past couple of months. Here’s a snapshot of some of the problems that state officials have been grappling with this summer:

• At the Dwight Correctional Center, the dishwashing equipment has been broken about one out of every three days for the past year. Having clean pots, pans and dishes is somewhat important when you have 1,100 people locked up in close quarters.

The state has spent about $13,000 in maintenance and about $150 per day on Styrofoam food trays to make sure the inmates at the women-only lock-up are fed in a sanitary manner.

Last month, the folks at Dwight finally declared the situation an emergency and committed to spending $94,000 to get a new dishwashing machine.

• In late May, an electrical short in some underground utility lines at the Dixon Correctional Center triggered a chain reaction that eventually blew a metal manhole cover six feet into the air. The cost to fix the problem was nearly $40,000.

• At the Sheridan Correctional Center, home to 1,400 inmates, the refrigeration units began to fail in June, triggering the need to spend $55,400 on emergency, no-bid repairs so there would be a safe food supply.

• In April, the fridge and freezer units at Shawnee Correctional Center were damaged by electrical problems. The cost to replace them: $229,000.

• At the Tinley Park Mental Health Center, officials had to earmark about a half million dollars last month to do some emergency repairs to air conditioning units affecting two buildings, including the kitchen and pharmacy.

• A key part of the air conditioning system at the Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee broke down this spring after being in service for 42 years. Without a new $64,000 part, disabled residents at the facility won’t be able to participate in physical treatment programs, potentially putting the state in jeopardy of losing federal funds to operate the center.

• Marble tiles have started falling off the outside of the state’s main office building in Chicago, potentially harming pedestrians walking below. The cost to fix the problem: $730,000.

• At the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center, the aging power plant began having hiccups earlier this year. Things got so bad that by July 8 officials decided to spend $180,000 on three emergency generators so the sprawling facility in Anna would have enough power to keep residents cool.

And that’s only the start of fixing the problem at Choate. The facility has the generators in place, but now must begin seeking a way to fix a voltage regulator, which is seen as key to keeping the lights on.

“Should the voltage regulator not be replaced, the facility could not operate,” documents note.

Could some of these emergency expenses have been avoided by staying on top of problems and spending a little here and there on regular maintenance? Possibly.

It just goes to show that whoever inherits the Governor’s Mansion next January won’t be able to simply hide in a bathroom like former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

There’s a lot to fix in Illinois. Literally.


Erickson provides a good compilation of the types of infrastructure problems cropping up throughout IDOC facilities due to the chronic lack of funds for the past few years. The public needs to hear what is going on within IDOC and the ways in which inmates and correctional officers are being placed at risk in IDOC. We usually hear only about programs being hit in the public sector, but IDOC cuts  jeopardize the welfare of many on a daily basis. The blog has heard from inmates at a number of IDOC facilities reporting similar supply cutbacks and facility restrictions being imposed due to lack of money:

Facilities are housing inmates to the max due to the suspension of the Early Release Programs and Good Time credits. At least one facility has stated that it will start housing incoming inmates in the last facility space it has available – a basement dorm which has been condemned by the local Fire Marshall as being unsafe for prison housing due to sufficient lack of fire exits.

IDOC facilities are notifying inmates that they can no longer supply them with shaving razors and toilet paper, due to costs.

Two buses of new inmates from Cook County were recently turned away at Stateville and returned to the Cook County Jail because Stateville did not have any available housing.


In the past year, Illinois has added almost 2,000 inmates to its prisons, bringing its total population as of June 28 to 47,551, a new high for the state. (Source: Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC)). The state’s prison system has about 50 percent more prisoners than the prisons were designed to hold, with 25 of the state’s 28 prisons operating over capacity.

This recent growth stems from the suspension of some early release programs, but the problem of prison overcrowding is rooted in decades of tough on crime legislation, the war on drugs, and harsh sentencing practices.

These policies have not only led to record numbers of people being locked up. They have also drained Illinois of vital resources, while having little to no discernable effect on the crime rate. According to IDOC figures, the average cost per inmate was $25,000 per year in 2009.

  1. Linda J. says:

    I was recently at Dixon to visit my friend and he advised me that they have not had any vegetables for over two weeks and that the food is so bad that you see most people take the tray and throw it in the garbage. Most of the products are Soy Products. But my main concern is that he is in the HCU Unit and he is in a wheel chair, it is very crowded there and if there were a fire there I am worried that a lot of people would die because of not being able to get out of the building. I am also very concerned about the lack of funds to operate the Prisons, what does Illinois plan to do? They just keep digging a deeper and deeper hole. I feel that the Governor made a mistake with the MGT PUSH and it got out of hand and now all prisoners that are entitled to good time are being punished because it is election year. Randall was in Dixon for a visit last week and when asked about good time, his answer was sometime after the election in November. Is this right do they not understand that if they gave at least the non-violent prisoners good time that they could save a lot of money. My friend was suppose to do 6 months and he has been there 9 now. From what I have just read in the article there is no possible way that the State can afford to keep these prisoners locked up in the overcrowded conditions and keep repairing all the old equipment. This is throwing good money after bad. WAKE UP ILLINOIS AND MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION, BRING BACK GOOD TIME AND SAVE THE CITIZENS OF ILLINOIS SOME MONEY BEFORE YOU DESTROY THE STATE.


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