Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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January 24, 1945


Illinois prisons made significant contributions to the war effort. The National Selective Service Administration developed a plan to induct worthy felons that first was instituted in February 1943. Worthy felons were those who were considered victims of their circumstances and capable of full rehabilitation. Special Panel Boards were created to screen applicants from the prison population. In addition to the thousands of men inducted by this means, unknown numbers of convicted felons were sentenced to military service by the courts.

Of a total of 7,594 prison inmates system wide on June 30, 1945, 1,230 were employed in war work. For "rush-top-priority" orders prisoners gave up holidays and otherwise worked additional hours. Institutions at Joliet and Stateville held three contracts with the army, one with the navy, and two with the Lend-Lease Division of the Treasury Department. Total contracts amounted to $515,960.49 for fiscal year 1945 alone. The garments manufactured or repaired at these institutions were shipped to Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific. Inmates also assembled pallets for transporting 155 millimeter and 240 millimeter artillery shells. These went to arsenals in Savanna and Elmwood, Illinois and from there overseas. With workers in exceedingly high demand in all sectors of the economy unions were not outspoken in their opposition to this practice which in harder times would have been criticized as unfair competition.

Points to Consider

Describe how Illinois prisons contributed to Allied victory in WWII.

Which types of prison inmates would have been accepted into the armed forces?

Why would a prison inmate choose to be inducted into the armed services?

Why might labor unions have objected to the use of prison labor?

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