SPRINGFIELD - State prison officials have averted a potential crisis behind bars: A shortage of undies for inmates.
As part of a supply problem rooted in a global surge in cotton prices, the company hired to supply the material for boxer shorts worn by prisoners refused to deliver because it couldn't make money on its contract.
Facing the prospect of having inmates with no skivvies, state officials this week hired another company to supply the cloth. The new contract is worth $183,800, which is an estimated $50,000 more than what the state had originally planned to spend, according to documents.
An official at the Florida-based company that pulled out of its contract says Illinois isn't alone.
Robin Resnick, vice president of sales for J, Weinstein & Sons, said the firm has told other states where it does business that the rapid rise in cotton prices means they won't deliver at prices agreed to in previous years.
"It's raining and everybody's getting wet," Resnick said. "We have to pay our bills."
Cotton prices have more than doubled in the past six months as world supplies have dwindled. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, last season's price for cotton grown in the U.S. was the highest since the late 1990s.
"Tightening world ending stocks have recently translated into high global cotton prices," the USDA notes.
Illinois doesn't actually purchase pre-made boxer shorts. Rather, the state buys material known as "broadcloth" from companies like J. Weinstein and has it shipped it to the Sheridan Correctional Center north of Ottawa. There, the material is cut into pieces at an inmate labor program.
It is later sewn into the shorts provided to prisoners.
The state's emergency contract with the new cloth vendor runs out in February and analysts are predicting continuing high prices.
Mississippi State University Professor Emeritus O.A. Cleveland said higher prices could remain in place for the next two years.
"(C)otton has joined the party and will see many more months of the magic dollar sign," Cleveland noted in an article in the December edition of "Cotton Grower" magazine.