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IDOC sees spike in alcohol brewed by inmates

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — The number of inmates in the Illinois state prison system caught making illegal alcohol has increased this fiscal year, and it might have to do with a drink going to prison facilities legally.

Lindsey Hess, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said during the previous fiscal year, there were 83 reports of homemade alcohol being made in IDOC facilities. So far this fiscal year, which began July 1, there have already been 71 reports.

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association, a nonpartisan prison watchdog organization, said it might be easier for inmates to make alcohol because of access to fruit juice.

Vollen-Katz cited a corrections officer who testified on this matter during a subject-matter hearing, saying the spike in cases is linked to changing juice vendors.

“The new vendor provided fruit juice that had a much higher content of fruit; it made it more easily fermentable,” Vollen-Katz said.

Vollen-Katz said it’s hard to tell how widespread this issue is because the IDOC has not made that information available to the public.

“It would probably be wrapped up in other categories like maybe contraband or things of that nature,” Vollen-Katz said.

Hess said the IDOC staff play a vital role in keeping their facilities safe, but Vollen-Katz said illegal alcohol in prison facilities puts their safety at risk.

“Part of the danger is it impacts behavior and judgment, and those are things that do not play out well in a correctional setting,” Vollen-Katz said.

Vollen-Katz said to prevent this from continuing, IDOC could ask the vendor to provide different beverages to inmates.

She also said corrections officers will be key to fixing the problem.

“My guess is there will be more going into cells looking for the materials necessary to make alcohol, so I would think that there’s going to be an increase in vigilance and an increase in inspections,” Vollen-Katz said.

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IDOC sees spike in alcohol brewed by inmates