News Local/State

Illinois Prison System Requests Huge Increase In Education Funding

Vicki White, president of Chicago Books to Women in Prison, reads a letter sent from an incarcerated woman. She is standing in a room lined with bookcases and book shelves full of books.

Vicki White, president of Chicago Books to Women in Prison, reads a letter sent from an incarcerated woman to the organization, which donates books to women in prisons in Illinois and across the country. Lee V. Gaines / Illinois Newsroom

The Illinois Department of Corrections requested a massive increase in funding for educational supplies as part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s state budget proposal.

The request is a departure from prior years, and comes after Illinois Newsroom reported last spring that the agency spent less than $300 on books across more than two dozen prison facilities in 2017.

For fiscal 2019, the department requested and received $7,000 to spend on educational supplies. This year, the agency requested $350,000, according to Lindsey Hess, a spokesperson for IDOC.

If the proposed fiscal 2020 budget, which would go into effect July 1, 2019, is approved by state lawmakers, IDOC Director John Baldwin said a portion of the funding would be used to purchase books for state prisons.

“Primarily those books are going to be nonfiction. We have a lot of people donating fiction to us. So we're going to be out buying some nonfiction books,” he said.

In years past, the agency relied on donations from volunteer groups and individuals to stock prison libraries.

The department also requested funding to hire more staff for educational programming. Educational staffing levels are estimated to be at 200 individuals for the current year fiscal year, and the department is requesting funding to increase that number to 210, according to figures provided by IDOC.

The governor’s office released a statement saying Pritzker is focused on making investments in education, public safety and social services.

“The governor is committed to criminal justice reform and believes education is an important tool to reducing recidivism rates in Illinois,” wrote Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, in an email.

A 2018 report from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget’s Budgeting For Results Commission indicated that inmate participation in educational programming in state prisons — including both secondary and post-secondary courses — saves taxpayers money and reduces recidivism. Post-secondary educational programming has the largest return on investment saving nearly $39 in future costs for every $1 spent on programming.

State lawmakers are expected to vote on the governor’s proposed budget later this month.

Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines