IDOC inmates continue to face commissary shortages

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BETH HUNDSDORFER
Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – To Illinois prisoners, commissary is more than candy bars, shaving cream and socks. It represents normalcy and choice.

“It’s everything to them,” said Melly Rios, whose husband is in Stateville Correctional Center serving 45 years for murder.

A recent report from the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, detailed widespread supply shortages at Illinois Department of Corrections prison commissaries around the state. Soap, deodorant, detergent, writing materials, thermal shirts, socks, underwear and canned meat and noodles are all in short supply.

“It’s not like luxury items like candy bars or the hot new Christmas gift. These commissaries provide items that are basic necessities,” said Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center. Mills has litigated prisoner civil rights cases for more than 40 years.

An IDOC spokesperson wrote in an email that COVID-19 has impacted global supply chains, leading to shortages. Essential raw materials are not making it to distribution centers and there is a shortage of workers in manufacturing centers and logistic companies, she wrote.

But the John Howard report released Monday points to a new vendor and a contentious bidding process. In June, Keefe Group was awarded the contract for the entire IDOC system. The contract award was contested by another vendor that was not awarded the contract. IDOC then contracted on an emergency basis with Keefe to provide items.

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director for the John Howard Association, believes both things are contributing to the shortages.

“I think that it’s a combination of those things,” Vollen-Katz said. “But it’s confounding to me why it has taken so long to resolve.”

IDOC received approval and entered into five emergency contracts with vendors, according to an IDOC spokesperson. The department expects that the expanded contracts and more available avenues for purchasing will allow for the restocking of prison commissaries.

Two weeks ago, IDOC distributed bags of food and hygiene items, toothpaste and brushes, into care packages to all inmates.

This is the moment a truck dragged a car down an Illinois motorway after the vehicle became pinned underneath it.



It’s a nice short-term solution, Mills said. But with an agency facing staffing shortages and a global pandemic, Mills said this should be an easy fix.

Under current security protocols, care packages from the public cannot be accepted at IDOC prisons. The John Howard Association put forth the suggestion to allow friends and family members of inmates to purchase care packages from already approved vendors so they could be shipped directly to inmates.

“Right now, that is not approved, but we hope they will consider it,” Vollen-Katz said.

Rios told Capitol News Illinois in a phone call that she talks to her husband every day. As she headed home late Tuesday afternoon to call him, she raised her voice to speak over the traffic noise. She’s worried, she said. He’s lost weight since he is unable to get noodles and canned meat. But it’s more than that. It’s his state of mind, she said, at losing one more thing.

“I know many people may think that they are bad people, but if you are going to put them in there, you have to take care of them,” Rios said. “I have to be his voice. It’s the only one he has right now.”

Photos: Toys roll in for kids at drive hosted by Cardinals Care and the Red Cross

Cardinals Care, Red Cross team to collect holiday gifts

Carol Miller and her dog Ollie are surprised with hot chocolate from Fredbird after dropping off gifts outside Busch Stadium during a toy drive hosted by Cardinals Care and the American Red Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The gifts will be distributed to children at Scott Air Force Base and four non-profit agencies that help children in St. Louis. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com




Robert Cohen



Cardinals Care, Red Cross team to collect holiday gifts

Cleveland LaFlore of Florissant, drops off gifts to Nancy Linda of the St. Louis Cardinals outside Busch Stadium during a toy drive hosted by Cardinals Care and the American Red Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The gifts will be distributed to children at Scott Air Force Base and four non-profit agencies that help children in St. Louis. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com




Robert Cohen



Cardinals Care, Red Cross team to collect holiday gifts

Fredbird takes a short drive with Vicky Jackson of Collinsville after Jackson donated gifts at a toy drive hosted by Cardinals Care and the American Red Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 outside Busch Stadium. The gifts will be distributed to children at Scott Air Force Base and four non-profit agencies that help children in St. Louis. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com




Robert Cohen



Cardinals Care, Red Cross team to collect holiday gifts

Tank, an explosives detection dog handled by Elaine Carter, sniffs holiday gifts dropped off by Cardinals fans outside Busch Stadium during a toy drive by Cardinals Care and the American Red Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The gifts will be distributed to children at Scott Air Force Base and four non-profit agencies that help children in St. Louis. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com




Robert Cohen



Cardinals Care, Red Cross team to collect holiday gifts

Gifts are stacked inside Busch Stadium during a toy drive hosted by Cardinals Care and the American Red Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The gifts will be distributed to children at Scott Air Force Base and four non-profit agencies that help children in St. Louis. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com




Robert Cohen



Cardinals Care, Red Cross team to collect holiday gifts

Fredbird collects gifts delivered by Cardinals fans outside Busch Stadium during a toy drive hosted by Cardinals Care and the American Red Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The gifts will be distributed to children at Scott Air Force Base and four non-profit agencies that help children in St. Louis. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com




Robert Cohen



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December 8, 2021 at 07:18PM

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