- Associated Press - Friday, December 8, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The Illinois Department of Corrections acknowledged Friday that illegal alcohol brewed by inmates in the state prison system is on pace to double this year, but a spokeswoman denied a vendor delivering a new blend of fruit drinks contributed to the spike.

Spokeswoman Lindsey Hess told The Associated Press that there have been 71 reports of inmates found making moonshine since the fiscal year began July 1. Compared with 83 reported in the previous year, that’s on a pace to jump 105 percent.

Hess did not respond when asked what administrators believe has caused the uptick. But she said a prison guard’s assertion that the budget crisis necessitated a shift to a vendor offering a drink with 100 percent juice - more conducive to home brew - is untrue.

A switch to 100 percent juice was made in 2008 “for nutritional reasons,” Hess said.

Corey Knop, a correctional officer at Lawrence Correctional Center in Sumner, told lawmakers this week he has seen more illegal liquor recently than at any time during an 18-year career. He told the House Appropriations-Public Safety Committee reviewing allegations of a hike in inmate assaults on staff members that an inmate brewing hooch was previously punished with segregation, but now just loses privileges.

Hess did not comment on a change in discipline, but confirmed that contraband including intoxicants can result in lost privileges such as visitation, library, or work time .

“Our staff plays a vital role in keeping our facilities safe and free of contraband,” Hess said. “We rely on them to remain diligent when conducting offender pat-downs, routine cell searches and cell-compliance checks.”

A spokesman for Knop’s union, the American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees Council 31 , did not respond to a request for comment.

The legislative hearing was scheduled after AFSCME released statistics in October showing that inmate assaults have grown precipitously in the past two years. It blames the Corrections Department for moving violent inmates to less-costly, but less-secure, prisons and curtailing punishments.

Corrections administrators have said the numbers aren’t as high as the union claims but they note budgetary shortfalls and say inmate movements are appropriate. They point out the huge population of mentally ill inmates and highlight staff training to effectively interact with them.

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Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/john%20o’connor

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