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It may not be something to actually "Cheer" about, but state officials may have turned the "Tide" on an inmate underwear shortage that has been plaguing prisoners at a Central Illinois lock-up.

Records show the Illinois Department of Corrections recently purchased a new washing machine for the Taylorville Correctional Center, a minimum-security facility that houses about 1,200 male inmates.

This is not your typical washer. It's a $17,780 piece of equipment, and, if all goes as planned, it could help reduce the number of days some inmates at the facility must wear the same pair of skivvies.

The purchase was initiated in July, just days after the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, went public with an unsettling peek behind the prison walls: Inmates at Taylorville were being issued just two sets of previously worn, sometimes threadbare and, um, stained underwear that were only being laundered once per week.

Although inmates can purchase additional boxers from the prison commissary, the Chicago-based organization said inmates were complaining that they had to wear the same pair of undies for multiple days in a row.

"The practice of administering used underwear that inmates must wear multiple days without washing raises serious hygiene concerns," the organization noted.

When inmates arrive at the Taylorville facility, they receive three pairs of pants, three shirts, one jacket, one stocking hat, two pairs of boxers and two pairs of socks. Inmates used to receive a new set of clothing every six months, but the state's budget mess has put that practice on hold.

Compounding the situation at Taylorville was the unreliable nature of the facility's old washing machine. Documents show a 21-year-old industrial-sized washer was no longer operable at the end of June.

With the new equipment, Corrections spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said, the shortage is being addressed.

"I think all laundry is moving along smoothly. If that was an issue before, it is not an issue now," Elman said recently.

Of course, any celebration of the new washer could be premature. As part of Gov. Pat Quinn's budget fight with the Legislature, he wants to close the Logan Correctional Center and move nearly 2,000 inmates to other medium-security facilities around the state.

Among the prisons affected by his proposal is Taylorville, where laundry generated by the additional inmates could overwhelm the new washer.

New uses

Although Quinn's plan to shutter seven state facilities is a long way from actually happening, there are some who believe it could lead to better things.

Take the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro as an example: Quinn wants to close the facility and move the juvenile offenders to other centers around the state.

But rather than leave the buildings and grounds empty, some observers believe it could be re-purposed by the state as a special prison for veterans or as a geriatric care facility for elderly convicts.

Although those are interesting and lofty ideas, the state is not exactly known for creative reuse of shuttered facilities.

It's been more than a decade since former Gov. George Ryan closed the former Lincoln Developmental Center. State law enforcement and emergency management officials occasionally use the 100-acre grounds for training purposes, but mostly the place is a haven for squirrels and other little woodland creatures.

Party time

At least four potential presidential candidates will descend on Central Illinois later this month.

Roger Gary and Lee Wrights of Texas, R.J. Harris of Oklahoma and Carl Person of New York will be addressing attendees at an event in Bloomington on October 21-23.

Haven't heard of them? They are candidates running for the Libertarian Party nomination. The Illinois party is holding its state convention that weekend.

In the 2008 election, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr came in fourth in Illinois.

To put that in perspective, fourth place represented less than one-half of one percent of the total votes cast that year.

Date to remember

After a lengthy break from Springfield, the General Assembly is scheduled to return to town Oct. 25 for the start of the fall veto session.

Kurt Erickson is Lee Statehouse Bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-782-4043.

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