Capitol Fax.com - Your Illinois News Radar » *** UPDATED x1 *** OEIG: IDOC used inmate labor for staff fundraising events “such as car washes and shoe shining”
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*** UPDATED x1 *** OEIG: IDOC used inmate labor for staff fundraising events “such as car washes and shoe shining”

Friday, Jan 28, 2022

* From the OEIG…

An OEIG investigation relating to the administration of Employee Benefit Funds (EBFs) at the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) was recently released. EBFs exist at all of the IDOC Correctional Centers and at its central administrative office in Springfield. Although EBFs serve a purpose in boosting employee morale, the EBFs at each facility operated independently, with little to no oversight, whether through audits, implementation of clear policies and procedures, training, or otherwise.

The investigation revealed that although IDOC’s Administrative Directives limited the primary source of the EBFs’ revenues to profits from vending machines and employee commissaries, most of the EBFs had expanded their revenue streams by generating large sums of money from fundraising. These expansive fundraising efforts, in turn, led to various problematic practices, such as soliciting donations from local businesses without ensuring that they were not State vendors, improperly holding raffles, selling merchandise in a way that evaded statutory and IDOC limitations, and devoting large amounts of State time to EBF activities. In addition, the investigation discovered that the EBFs spent much of the funds they raised on employee entertainment; in some cases they spent their funds in ways that benefitted only a select few employees. The EBFs also improperly used inmate labor for their fundraisers.

In response to the report, and at the direction of the prior and current gubernatorial administrations, IDOC undertook an extensive review and overhaul of EBF procedures. A senior IDOC employee was also suspended for 15 days. A copy of the report, In re: John Baldwin and Edwin Bowen (OEIG Case #17- 01266), is available on the OEIG website.

* From that report

The investigation also revealed that many EBFs use inmate labor for fundraising events such as car washes and shoe shining events [contrary to state law.] […]

IDOC [Identifying Information Redacted] [IDOC Senior Staff Employee] told investigators that previously, the EBFs kept all profits from the fundraisers they held that used inmate labor, but 12 to 18 months ago there was a policy decision with IDOC Chief of Staff Edwin Bowen that required the EBFs to split the profits from such fundraisers equally with the Inmate Benefit Fund and the institution’s 523 fund. Nevertheless, [IDOC Senior Staff Employee 1] said he felt that using inmate labor to raise funds for the EBFs is “bad optics,” “bad ethically,” and “bad morally.” He added: “It’s really hard for me to just honestly stomach the idea that … employees benefit from offender labor.”

Sheesh. Using inmates for a shoe-shining event to pay for staff parties and gifts. That goes beyond “optics.” What is this, Mississippi?

*** UPDATE *** The governor’s office insists that doing things like using inmates to raise money is no longer happening under their watch. Gov. Rauner’s administration agreed to implement the OEIG’s recommendations.

* Meanwhile

An Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) employee has pleaded guilty to two of the charges against him.

Michael S. Williams, 52, of Auburn, was facing 25 counts of custodial sexual misconduct and eight counts of official misconduct.

Williams served as an IDOC Correctional Food Service Manager before he was charged in 2019.

Allegations first came to light in April 2019. He was arrested by Illinois State Police in September of 2019 at the Decatur Correctional Center.

* On to WICS

In Illinois, 34 prisons are on lockdown because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

These lockdowns come just two weeks after the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) stopped taking inmates from county jails due to outbreaks.

This has impacted Sangamon County Jail.

The number of inmates Sangamon County Jail has to transfer to Department of Corrections has doubled in just two weeks.

* Capitol News Illinois

In mid-January, 3,300 incarcerated people and nearly 1,100 staff members at Illinois prisons were infected with the disease. While hospitalizations have been rare during the latest wave, according to the state, one person in custody and two staff members have died.

With the pandemic fast approaching its third year, state prison officials are facing difficulties containing the virus once again because of the lagging vaccine rate of prison staff, the main conduit of COVID-19 into the prisons.

In August, Gov. JB Pritzker ordered all guards to be vaccinated, but their union protested the mandate and took it to arbitration. The governor prevailed in late December. Now, all prison workers must have their first shot by the end of January.

By the end of December, 65% of prison staff had been vaccinated, according to department officials who nevertheless remain confident that nearly all staff will meet the January deadline, citing markedly improving vaccination rates since the end of October, when only 49% were vaccinated.

But the slow rollout means very few of them — only 12% — have had booster shots, which are administered six months after the first round of vaccines but are crucial to warding off the omicron variant. By comparison, 44% of Illinois prisoners had received boosters by the end of the 2021.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

29 Comments
  1. - Former Inmate - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:00 am:

    I’m a former inmate at Taylorville. I’m sorry to say that this kind of stuff has been going on for years. Taylorville had a shoeshine chair for correctional officers in the administration building, where inmates shined the officer’s boots.


  2. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:08 am:

    I hope that today being a Friday doesn’t prevent this from becoming the national news story that it should be. Several people involved in this scheme to use slave labor from inmates to fund entertainment of correctional workers with no oversight should be unceremoniously fired.

    === IDOC Chief of Staff Edwin Bowen that required the EBFs to split the profits from such fundraisers equally with the Inmate Benefit Fund and the institution’s 523 fund===

    This policy change alone is suggestive that the Director’s office was very aware of this practice and decided to let it continue. Since this decision to continue the practice was made at the Director’s office, even with a slightly more just modification, Governor Pritzker will need to address this issue directly.

    This policy became his policy the moment they made that policy change and it doesn’t matter what DOC was doing before hand — so I hope this is a policy change that Governor Pritzker wants to own.


  3. - cermak_rd - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:09 am:

    Were the prisoners compensated at all in percs or $ or anything?

    Do any reporters have a prison beat? Like talk to prisoners in different prisons around the state? I know I have read jailhouse interviews for other topics, but I’m thinking of a regular beat of covering the issue of incarceration?

    Because the prisons are located far away from the population center of the state (Thanks Edgar) and seems maybe they need some coverage.


  4. - Whew - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:10 am:

    Shoe shining? Shine your own darn shoes.


  5. - NonAFSCMEStateEmployeeFromChatham - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:11 am:

    All the benefit fund stuff at the prisons mentioned in the report was going on from roughly 2016-2018. I think we all know who was Governor during those years?


  6. - NonAFSCMEStateEmployeeFromChatham - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:12 am:

    ==Shoe shining? Shine your own darn shoes.==

    I very rarely shine my shoes (and if I do, I just use water).


  7. - Excitable Boy - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:16 am:

    Employee morale? These unskilled, power tripping employees make way more than the median income in the communities they live in, and yet they need to use slave labor to pay for birthday cakes?

    What a crock.


  8. - NonAFSCMEStateEmployeeFromChatham - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:19 am:

    From page 27 of the report:

    “For example, the Springfield EBF spends an extraordinary amount on its annual holiday
    party: about $30,000 per year, for an event typically attended by about 150 to 175 employees plus their guests.”

    That’s crazy. Makes me more proud to work in a state office that hasn’t had a holiday party since Blago came into office (other than workplace potlucks and snack days pre-COVID). Especially in case those things were mandatory for employees to attend.


  9. - DuPage - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:24 am:

    What we have here is a failure to communicate. /s


  10. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:33 am:

    “I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your (rear end) belongs to me. Welcome to IDOC.”


  11. - Almost the Weekend - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:37 am:

    Thank you Gov Thompson for building prisons in the middle of nowhere for your republican stakeholders and making it near impossible to oversee and creating fiefdoms where nepotism and this BS is seen as OK.


  12. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:45 am:

    === 2016-2018. I think we all know who was Governor during those years? ===

    This isn’t a practiced that was developed by Governor Rauner. In the report it is quite clear that IDOC had involved their internal legal counsel in the process which resulted in the change in the policy to direct a portion of funds to other entities when IDOC inmate labor was used. The date of the report is in January of 2019 right before Governor Pritzker took his oath of office.

    If this practice didn’t immediately cease hasn’t stopped since that time frame, this is a practice that Governor Pritzker now owns. Governor Pritzker’s office will need to address whether or not this practice is continuing and if so how and why the decision was made to continue the practice after the report was provided in the final full week of the Rauner administration.

    If the practice hasn’t stopped completely, he will need to demonstrate who is accountable for the ongoing law breaking at IDOC where inmates have been exploited for the personal gain of IDOC staff.


  13. - OneMan - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 10:51 am:

    The Pritzker administration gave Rauner credit for doing something ‘positive’, now I have seen everything.

    While yes, putting these jails in the middle of nowhere seems to have not been a great idea, I don’t recall a large upswell of people closer to Chicago wanting these in their cities and towns.

    When I used to take Amtrak to Springfield it was always interesting to me how many of the stops were towns that had jails.


  14. - NonAFSCMEStateEmployeeFromChatham - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 11:03 am:

    ==When I used to take Amtrak to Springfield it was always interesting to me how many of the stops were towns that had jails.==

    Joliet/Stateville, Dwight, Pontiac, and Lincoln/Logan. Interestingly, only the Lincoln and Logan CCs IIRC were among the Thompson-era prison expansion.


  15. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 11:03 am:

    === Gov. Rauner’s administration agreed to implement the OEIG’s recommendations.===

    I am eager to hear about how such a change was successfully implemented with basically one business week left of the Rauner administration.

    I see that the main stakeholders in the policy that were aware of the policy and how exploitative it was seem to have continued to remain in senior management positions at DOC, so I wonder to what extent people who created, fostered, continued, and defended a lawless exploitation of IDOC inmates were held accountable.

    If there’s no accountability that OEIG is a joke and every time there’s a detailed finding like this and no one is held accountable the joke becomes more well known.

    We shouldn’t expect civil servants who began their careers by contributing to political fundraisers so they could get hired under the Thompson Administration to be personally concerned with their ethical conduct. Failing to have meaningful consequences for blatant violations of statute and exploiting inmates for personal gain isn’t going to discourage that kind of behavior from continuing, but on the down low.


  16. - MisterJayEm - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 11:05 am:

    Why is it so difficult to have prisons that don’t inevitably become cauldrons of corruption, racism and evil?

    It’s almost as if, by their very nature, they…

    Naw.

    It can’t be that, rite?

    – MrJM


  17. - Former Inmate - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 11:36 am:

    The practice that I described occurred during the Quinn administration.


  18. - Former Inmate - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 11:54 am:

    ==It’s almost as if, by their very nature, they ==

    Let disabuse you of any fantasy that the inmates somehow running the asylum. If you think that someone really enjoys spending their day shining the boots of the guards they see regularly abusing others, you’re wrong. We all expected degradation while we were in prison. But no one made plans to help the guards profit from it.


  19. - Glenn - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 11:55 am:

    Prisons are not schools for rehabilitation but schools for crime.

    Don’t mistake my statement of this fact as my accepting approval of this fact.

    Graduates of these “schools” practice learned survival skills on the street while police wage an urban warfare they can’t win against a problem they can’t solve.

    Too many potential laborers are “spoiled” by their records while billionaires increase in number through their use of outsourced labor to low wage countries.


  20. - Excitable Boy - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 12:36 pm:

    - Let disabuse you of any fantasy that the inmates somehow running the asylum. -

    I’m not going to speak for MrJM, but I do not think that is what he was saying.


  21. - Homebody - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 1:24 pm:

    I may just be showing my ignorance here but…

    == In Illinois, 34 prisons are on lockdown because of COVID-19 outbreaks. ==

    Just how many prisons do we HAVE?


  22. - Michelle Flaherty - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 1:58 pm:

    – The practice that I described occurred during the Quinn administration. –

    Doesn’t everyone remember Squeezy, the prison inmate labor python?


  23. - Anon - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 2:32 pm:

    Interestingly, former chief of staff Bowen who orchestrated this remains in a cushy job with DOC.


  24. - Dotnonymous - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 2:34 pm:

    “Just how many prisons do we HAVE?”

    Enough to warehouse more prisoners than any other country on Earth.

    Welcome to The Land of the Free.


  25. - Former Inmate - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 2:41 pm:

    == Prisons are not schools for rehabilitation but schools for crime. ==

    I never cease to be amazed by how people who have never been in or even near a prison seem to know so much about what goes on inside.


  26. - Blue Dog - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 3:50 pm:

    Whatever happened to the good old days of busting rocks.


  27. - Dotnonymous - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 4:03 pm:

    “- Blue Dog - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 3:50 pm:

    Whatever happened to the good old days of busting rocks.”

    You had better hope they don’t reinstate alcohol prohibition.


  28. - Just doing time - Friday, Jan 28, 22 @ 4:30 pm:

    I’ve worked for Idoc for over 25 years. The prison populist is at an all time low of round 20,000 inmates. Easily verified on the idoc page.Was almost double that when I started. Employees paid for haircuts or shoeshine that were provided by inmate labor. Inmates are paid for these job assignments. Nobody made them do it, they are one of the most sought after jobs in the institution, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good soundbite.


  29. - Not proud - Sunday, Jan 30, 22 @ 3:56 pm:

    As an IDOC employee (non security) I can tell you the cushy jobs held by the folks in Springfield rarely have any idea what is actually going on inside a facility. They send policy changes via email with no follow up on if those policies are being followed. These “changes” have ceased at some prisons, but you can bet they haven’t stopped at all of them.


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