Catching Up with Coffey


Watchdog report indicates massive failure of maintenance in Illinois’ prison system. The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) operates 27 correctional facilities throughout the state. Ranging up to maximum security, these facilities house persons convicted of serious felony offenses.

WBEZ has obtained a copy of a report, heretofore not made public, in which a consultancy was asked to survey IDOC’s physical infrastructure and report to the Department’s top management. The report appears to indicate a crisis at three Illinois prison facilities, with serious challenges at many others. Mold, leaky roofs, sewage backups, and unsafe drinking water are among the reasons why IDOC senior personnel have been forced to juggle prisoners from facility to facility. In at least one recent incident, guards had to carry out the unplanned transfer of “dozens of prisoners” out of a ward in the Pontiac Correctional Center after the heat and hot water ceased to operate. The emergency operation was carried out on a cold February night.

The report indicates that the dire infrastructure conditions currently seen at the Department of Corrections were exacerbated by a decades-long pattern of physical underspending and deferred maintenance. The report indicates that up to $2.5 billion could soon be required to patch up the aging prison facilities discussed in the report.


Illinois derecho storm system spurs expanded State disaster proclamation. The derecho weather front that passed through Illinois late on Thursday, June 29, caused property damage and power outages throughout many regions of the state. A severe windstorm, widespread air bursts, and numerous tornadoes ( affected many parts of Central Illinois.

This week, the State disaster proclamation that covered this storm and its aftereffects was expanded to include four separate days – June 29, June 30, July 1, and July 2 – and 21 counties in Central Illinois. Highly populated counties and cities in the amended disaster proclamation include Macon/Decatur, McDonough/Macomb, Sangamon/Springfield, and Vermilion/Danville. Many other counties surrounding these metro areas are also included in the expanded proclamation. Under the amended proclamation, residents of these 21 counties can apply for relief and seek public-sector aid in the recovery process.


Audit finds Illinois paid out $5.2 billion in fraudulent or excessive unemployment “overpayments” during COVID-19. An audit report released this week by the Illinois Auditor General revealed that the State of Illinois paid out more than $5.2 billion in fraudulent or excessive unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, including $46 million in payments to incarcerated or deceased persons.

The Illinois Auditor General on Wednesday published a report that showed how the state agency that distributes unemployment benefits issued “overpayments” to the tune of $5.2 billion in fraudulent or excessive claims from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2022. The report is the fullest accounting yet of the large-scale fraud and overpayments that occurred in Illinois during the pandemic.

Of the $5.2 billion, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) overpaid by about $2 billion for regular unemployment insurance and by $3.2 billion for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) put in place following the outbreak of COVID.

Overall, $2.8 billion has been classified as identity theft – money not considered recoverable since it can’t be collected from the identity theft victim. According to the audit, only about a 10th of the total $5.2 billion has been recovered.

Unemployment surged in Illinois, as it did in the rest of the country, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 after Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Businesses were forced to cut back their operations, if not shut down, leaving many Illinois residents out of work and creating an unprecedented level of demand for unemployment insurance.

Illinois Wine Industry Thriving and Continuing to Grow

With at least 165 wineries and over 100 miles of wine trails, the wine industry in Illinois is thriving and the growth has been exponential in the last 30 years. Illinois is now the 12th-largest wine producing state in the country, which is remarkable considering there were only 12 wineries in the entire state in 1997. Award winning wines in Illinois are made from Native American, French Hybrid and Vinifera grapes, as well as a local fruit. Rose wine is the official wine of Illinois. The number of wineries in Illinois exploded in the 2000s, climbing to 27 in 2001, 63 in 2004, 77 in 2006, 105 in 2011 to now 165 and counting in 2023 according to the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Alliance (IGGVA). Wine-making dates back to 1691 in Illinois in an area just north of what is now Peoria. French descendents built a fort in the area, and the village surrounding it contained a winepress. Vineyards and wineries increased rapidly in the 1850s, and by 1868 there were approximately 225,000 gallons of wine being produced in Illinois. By 1880, over 3,000 acres of grapes were planted and the state was producing over one million gallons of wine, and by 1900 Illinois was the fourth largest wine-producing state in the nation.

Then along came Prohibition in 1919, and that brought almost all wine production to a halt. During this period of time, which lasted 14 years, some vineyards continued to grow table grapes while others uprooted their vines to plant corn and soybeans and never went back to wine production once Prohibition ended in 1933. During Prohibition, the Baxter brothers established the Gem City Vineland Company and remained in business by selling grapes to northern markets for personal wine making and consumption. Once Prohibition ended, the Baxter family obtained a wine manufacturing license and established the first bonded winery in Illinois. Baxter Vineyard and Winery in Nauvoo remains Illinois’ oldest operating winery and is run by a fifth generation of the Baxter family.

The wine industry did not begin to recover much from Prohibition in Illinois until the late 1970s, following a 1976 law that was passed that allowed wineries to sell wine to consumers on site. In the 1980s and 1990s wineries were established in the north, central and southern parts of the state, and in the early 2000s the Shawnee Hills region in Jackson County in deep southern Illinois became one of the largest grape growing regions in the state due to its heightened elevation, well-draining soil and summer breezes that reduced fungal infestation.

And the explosion of wine-making facilities, vineyards and tasting rooms has also brought an increase in quality. At the annual Illinois State Fair Wine Competition, just over 10 percent of wines submitted received a gold or double gold award in 2009. By 2021, that number increased to over 25 percent