When Lake County Jail inmates behaved, officials ordered a little weekend entertainment from Netflix, showing such hits as "Schindler's List" and "Hotel Rwanda."
"We didn't let the inmates choose them," said Richard Liddle, the jail's inmate program manager. "Or we'd have been watching '(The Texas) Chainsaw Massacre.'"
But the curtain has been dropped on the perk now that the jail's $35 monthly Netflix subscription has been canceled — a tiny portion of the $2 million in budget cuts that Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran disclosed Thursday.
Curran said the weekend movies were a victim of an increasingly tight budget, even if it's just an indirect drop in his department's $60 million spending plan.
Prisoners paid for the Netflix subscription with what they spent in the commissary on candy, toiletries and other items. That fund also paid the $5,000 to $6,000 annual licensing fee that organizations must buy if they show movies to large groups.
Curran also cut newspaper and magazine subscriptions from about $5,000 to $1,000. The savings, officials said, will be used for other things that drain the county budget, such as inmate uniforms.
The movies weren't perks for the inmates so much as an activity that helped guards maintain order and "keep everybody chilling out," Curran said.
"We didn't order anything that's pornographic. But it might not meet the standards of Rev. (Billy) Graham."
The bulk of the $2 million in budget cuts comes from such things as reducing overtime for the security detail at the courthouse — $400,000. Or reclassifying positions — saving $845,000 in wages.
Curran said he hasn't heard any grumbling about canceling Netflix.
McHenry, DuPage and Will county officials say their jails do not have Netflix accounts. Officials from the Cook and Kane County jails could not be reached Thursday.
McHenry, Lake and Will counties pay for basic cable service — but no movie channels.
"Inmates never said, 'Hey, why don't you give us movies?'" said Lt. Rebecca Sylvester, a McHenry County Jail official.
Sylvester said that the inmate commissary, as in Lake County, pays for things such as newspaper subscriptions, board games and playing cards.
Bibles and other religious materials are donated, but there are no extra perks. They've never had Netflix or other movie options.
Brian Fink, director of support services at the Will County Jail, said inmates also pay for their own entertainment through the commissary.
The jail has two televisions with basic cable in a central lounge. It's controlled by an officer.
The jail also subscribes to USA Today. Fink said they avoid local newspapers so inmates can't read about gang crime incidents.
"We have a different philosophy at our prison," said Fink. "We feel the idle mind is the devil's workshop. We try to keep them busy."
Tribune reporter Art Barnum and freelance reporters Amanda Marrazzo and Joseph Ruzich contributed to this report.
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