‘Five-Alarm Fire’ As IL Prisons Run Out of Money

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The Illinois Department of Corrections says a major cash crunch has it struggling to keep its facilities running, reports NPR Illinois. The warning came Wednesday at a Senate budget hearing. Some lawmakers say that was the first time they were hearing the situation was so dire. Back in 2016, prison officials were on the brink of a crisis at Western Illinois Correctional Center. John Baldwin, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, says the city-owned utility in Mt. Sterling was hours away from shutting off the water. Although it was owed hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mt. Sterling’s City Council decided not to shut off the water. The state still is behind on payments.

The incident and the ongoing debt show how Illinois’ two-year budget stalemate continues to cause problems in state government. Baldwin now needs more than $400 million before the end of the budget year this June. Senators chided Baldwin for not conveying the urgency of his request earlier than this week’s budget hearing. “I would describe the nature of the requests that the department has for an (fiscal year 2018) supplemental as a five-alarm fire,” said state Sen. Andy Manar. Baldwin said that to manage cash flow, his department has had to cut back on things like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. “I’ve heard more from the inmates about the need for supplemental than I have from [state officials],” Manar said. The budget problems in the state prison system are costing taxpayers more and more money. It is racking up around $4 million in late-payment penalties every month, the department’s finance chief told the committee.

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