On the one-year anniversary of the Sheridan National Model Drug Prison & Reentry program, Governor Rod Blagojevich today released results of an early evaluation of the program showing success in reducing crime and recidivism by as much as 66 percent. While noting that the young program – which is targeted to become the nation’s largest, state-run drug prison and reentry program of its kind – is still being developed, the Governor and national experts commended Sheridan for showing great promise in the fight against recidivism.
“When I announced the launch of the Sheridan project in my first State of the State Address as Governor of the State of Illinois, I charged our team with making Illinois a national model for drug crime prevention,” the Governor said. “The message was clear: This will be a long-term challenge, but we are ready. It is time to stop accepting the vicious cycle of crime and drugs – one that has resulted in record numbers of offenders returning to Illinois’ communities without the skills and preparation they need to live crime- and drug-free lives.”
“Today, we are releasing early results that show we are well on our way toward achieving our goal of improving public safety by targeting drug-involved offenders – a population that traditionally cycles from prisons back to our communities, only to commit new crimes, find new victims or violate their parole requirements. This first round of participants has not only shown a significant reduction in new offenses, but they have also been more likely to gain honest employment – another promising factor in moving them away from a life of crime and toward productive citizenship,” the Governor added. “Over the long-term, the success of this program will mean safer communities and reduced costs to taxpayers who are forced to foot the bill for new prison and incarceration costs.”
National experts on the issue of crime and recidivism that have been tracking the Sheridan project and other model programs, including Dr. Christy Visher, Principal Research Associate of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., echoed the Governor’s cautious optimism on the early results of the program.
"Governor Blagojevich is to be commended for his national leadership on targeting recidivism by launching the Sheridan project and statewide parole reform. In its first year of operation, Sheridan has taken proven research and best reentry practices and incorporated them into a project that promises to be a national model for reform. Because the Governor has ensured that all of the right pieces have been put into place for ongoing success, we have every reason to believe that these early, but promising reports of recidivism reduction will only continue to grow, thus improving community safety," said Dr. Visher, who is also the Principal Investigator for an ongoing study of Illinois parolees in Chicago.
Evaluation Report Provides Early Data Showing Promise for Program Success
The evaluation report will be formally presented at a commemorative event at Sheridan Correctional Center on Monday by the project’s chief evaluator, Dr. Dave Olson, Chairman and Professor of the Criminal Justice Department at Loyola University. The report provides tracking information that compares rearrest and reincarceration rates of the first round of 150 inmates released from Sheridan with a group of other parolees with similar histories. The research shows that 12% of Sheridan parolees were rearrested compared to 27% of the other group (a roughly 55% reduction); and that 2% of Sheridan parolees were reincarcerated compared with over 10% of the other group (a roughly 66% reduction).
The research also shows that the longer offenders stayed in the drug treatment program, the greater their success. Of the Sheridan parolees that had at least 7 months of prison-based treatment, none had been rearrested – compared with at least a 20% rearrest rate in the other group.
In addition, Diane Williams, president of the SAFER Foundation, will provide information stating that Sheridan participants have been more likely to secure honest work than the average parolee, and that they have been securing jobs more quickly. Generally basing her comparisons on a different study of Illinois parolees conducted by the Urban Institute, Williams said that 46% of all eligible Sheridan parolees were working compared to 30% in the study. In addition, 44% of Sheridan parolees found employment within 30 days of release compared with 31% in the study. (Williams noted that mechanisms are not yet in place to track statewide employment using consistent measures, but the Urban Institute study provided a general benchmark.)
“While it is still early, the preliminary findings on both recidivism and employment are encouraging, and will likely continue as the program evolves and matures. What makes these initial findings even more impressive is the fact that the participants in the program have very extensive substance abuse and criminal histories,” said Dr. Olson.
Targeting A Leading Factor in Recidivism
The Sheridan program was launched on Jan. 2, 2004, with the goal of becoming a national model drug prison and reentry program that targets drugs as a leading factor in rising recidivism rates over the past decade. Drug and property offenders (which are largely considered to be drug-involved) have among the highest recidivism rates in the state prison population, and it is estimated that as many as 69 percent of all adult prison admissions annually are for drug- or drug-involved crimes.
“The Sheridan project is first and foremost an issue of public safety. As states across the nation grapple with recidivism rates that have been rising to record levels for years, programs like this will help target the root causes of crime, such as substance abuse, and ultimately make communities safer,” said Illinois Department of Corrections Assistant Director Deanne Benos, whose office manages the program.
Aiming to Become the Largest Program of Its Kind in the Nation
Because of the magnitude of the impact of drugs on crime in Illinois, Sheridan was designed to be the largest fully-dedicated state drug prison in the nation. At full capacity, Sheridan will serve a total of 1,300 inmates at a time, but as many as 1,700 are projected to be admitted to the program each year. There are currently 1,100 beds at the facility, but federally-funded construction will be completed on the addition of a new 200-bed unit by the end of 2005.
Offering National Best Practices Prison-Based Drug Treatment
The Sheridan program targets offenders, with the exception of sex offenders and murderers, designated by clinicians as having a substance abuse problem that impacts their criminal behavior. Every inmate involved in the program is immersed into a therapeutic community environment that involves intensive drug treatment, cognitive skills development, counseling and mental health services. The goal of these services is to make the offender accountable for addressing both his drug addiction as well as to change the fundamental values and attitudes that have driven past criminal behavior. The prison-based drug treatment is provided by the Gateway Foundation, which has been recognized for successfully reducing crime and recidivism among drug-involved offenders in their programs nationwide.
Sheridan parolee Anthony Edwards has been invited by his parole agent and Gateway counselors to speak at Monday’s anniversary event because of the positive impact of the Sheridan program on his life. Edwards is a 33-year old who has been incarcerated six times since 1988. Since being released from Sheridan, he has reunited with his family, enrolled at Joliet Junior College and is currently employed as a general laborer. Edwards aspires to be a substance abuse counselor to help other offenders caught in the cycle of crime and drugs to have the same opportunity to make life changes that he has.
Developing New Vocational & Job Placement Programs to Help Move Offenders Toward Honest Work & Personal Accountability
The Sheridan program also demands personal accountability from inmates that goes beyond overcoming drug addiction. For the first time in state history, all offenders are required to participate in a SAFER Foundation job preparedness program that provides them with the skills to seek honest work upon their return to their communities. A new sector-based vocational education program was created specifically for Sheridan to support this effort. This program provides vocational training for jobs in a series of growing business sectors with opportunities for hiring ex-offenders, including Hospitality, Manufacturing, Technology and Construction. In addition, a new cutting-edge curriculum was developed to offer a “bridge” that integrates these practical job training courses with adult basic education for inmates with lower reading and math skills. In the past, it has been standard IDOC policy to prohibit inmates from accessing certain types of programming unless they first completed adult basic education on a separate track – sometimes leaving them without practical job skills.
“The Sheridan project is all about teamwork,” said IDOC Director Roger E. Walker Jr. “The Governor and I are committed to ensuring safer streets and saving taxpayers’ money by giving offenders the best opportunity to become productive, law-abiding citizens in the State of Illinois.”
Focusing on a Crime-Free & Drug-Free Reentry from Day One
One of the more unique components of the Sheridan project is the consistent focus on preparing all inmates for their crime-free and drug-free reentry from the moment they arrive at the facility through their completion of parole and beyond. Different from other programs that often begin addressing these issues within days of release, the Sheridan project establishes community-based connections on an ongoing basis – service contractors and agency staff work with offenders both in the prison and the community. For example, the SAFER Foundation provides job preparedness services that begin in the prison and carry through to actual job placement in the community. Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) begins working with offenders in prison to develop their clinical reentry plan for drug treatment, housing, mental health and anger management services, and then continues to work with them and manage the plan throughout their entire parole term.
“The Sheridan program is a true national model for substance abuse treatment and successful community reintegration,” said TASC President Melody Heaps. “Its comprehensive approach to recovery signifies a positive trend toward integrating systems and services for the corrections population. Sheridan represents a true investment in communities through a balance of public safety and restoration of citizenship."
Strengthening Community Capacity & Sustainability
At the Governor’s request, the planning of the Sheridan project involved national, state and local collaboration at a level that many community grassroots organizations have deemed to be historic in the state. Through these meetings, stakeholders worked together to look beyond the limits of law enforcement supervision to address the challenges of providing high-impact communities with the tools they need to support a safe, crime-free, drug-free and sustainable reentry environment for former offenders. As a result, the Sheridan project took on the goal of supporting community-capacity building as part of its mission.
To address this challenge, pilot “Community Support & Advisory Councils” (CSAC) have been launched in two of the highest-impact regions of the state: the south side of Chicago and the west side of Chicago. Members of these volunteer councils have begun meeting with inmates from their communities while they are still at Sheridan to help them establish community and faith-based connections for their return. They continue working with offenders upon release and provide ongoing feedback and recommendations to IDOC on improving their communities’ ability to sustain successful reentry.
"We attribute the early success of Sheridan, in part, to the Governor having the vision to engage community leaders in a meaningful way in planning the original program. It is clear to us that the Governor recognizes that reentry is an issue that begins and ends with communities. The level of involvement of grassroots leaders, and the successful creation of the community council pilots was historic and we have faith that will continue to help make our neighborhoods safer and stronger for our families,” said Rev. Patricia Watkins of the CSAC for Chicago's south side, and the Convener of the Developing Justice Coalition.
Building on Ongoing Efforts to Aggressively Target Crime & Recidivism
The Sheridan project is a part of the Governor’s ongoing efforts to aggressively target recidivism in Illinois. In addition, the Governor recently announced the creation of a 40-member, Statewide Community Safety & Reentry Working Group that will spend the next year developing a set of recommendations for a statewide reentry system, some of which will be based upon what has been learned from the Sheridan project. Throughout the year 2005, this working group will hold hearings in the top 10 regions of the state with the highest number of returning offenders to learn about their unique challenges and to help gather ideas for ways the final plan will support them. The Governor has also launched the “Operation Spotlight” Parole Reform Initiative, a four-year plan to double the number of parole agents, strengthen supervision for high-risk offenders, and employ new case management and graduated sanctions practices designed to reduce long-term re-offending behavior.