CHICAGO—Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced on Tuesday his selection of the individual who will lead the state’s Department of Corrections.
Ernesto Velasco, who served as director of the Cook County jail system, was chosen by the governor today to serve as director of the department which has the second-most employees in state government.
Velasco represents the first member of the Latino community ever appointed to the position.
“I am proud to have selected for this position someone who will serve as an inspirational leader to all of those employees—and to people across the state,” Blagojevich said.
The governor cited Velasco’s impressive life-story, which he said should serve as an inspiration to people across Illinois. He pointed out that Velasco came to Chicago as a 13 year-old immigrant from Mexico, with his mother and sister.
“His is an immigrant’s story,” Blagojevich said.
The governor added that Velasco’s story reminded him of his father’s own experience coming to the United States.
“It is marked by the realization that hard work and dedication are the keys to success,” he said.
Velsaco attended St. Roman’s grammar school and graduated from Harrison High School on Chicago’s near southwest side.
Velasco began his career with the Cook County Sheriff’s office in 1972 and worked his way up through the ranks.
He began as a correctional officer, and then—through hard-work and skill-- rose through the ranks to become a correctional sergeant in1978 and earn higher promotions: a lieutenant in 1980, captain in 1984, chief in 1985 and then superintendent in 1989.
In 1994, he was named assistant executive director for programs and special units.
Finally, in 1996, Velasco was named director of the Cook County Jail. There, he oversaw a staff of 3,000 and an inmate population of more than 11,000.
Velasco was the first Latino to be appointed to that position, and the first-ever employee of the county department of corrections to rise through the ranks to the position of director.
During his tenure at the jail, the facility received exemplary ratings. The American Correctional Association gave the jail a 98 percent score on non-mandatory standards—and perfect 100 percent on mandatory ratings. It is one of the largest county facilities in the country to receive such accreditation.
There, he supported the county jail’s “Life Learning” program—an innovative approach that offered job-skills, assistance with emotional and personal problems, reading and writing skills to detainees.
While working for the county, Velasco continued to take several courses to enhance his management skills. He attended classes at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management; through the U.S. Dept. of Justice; and John Marshall Law School.
He and his wife Sandra are the proud parents of two grown daughters.
Sandra and Velasco’s mother, Maria Elena, were scheduled to join him at the press conference this morning.