SPRINGFIELD – Delivering on his promise to fight recidivism, increase public safety and reduce the cost of crime, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that juvenile recidivism has dropped by 15 percent, the largest decline on record; more than 50 percent of Sheridan parolees have been able to find and retain jobs; and more incarcerated veterans are receiving the necessary skills and support to help them avoid the cycle of returning to prison again and again for the same mistakes.
The Governor announced that the statewide juvenile parole technical violation rate has dropped by more than 15 percent, the largest one-year decline on record, bringing the number to its lowest rate since FY 2000. The dramatic decline is the result of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) Juvenile Division’s efforts to improve social and educational services for incarcerated youths. The programs target young men and women, who are at risk of going back to prison and provides individualized drug treatments, counseling and education services and skills development to ease their transition back into society.
“We must help young men and women who are in prison develop the skills they need to stay away from drugs, find jobs, rebuild their lives and become productive members of society when they are released. Helping our youth get a fresh start when they are released from prison is a key step towards safer communities, lower recidivism rates, and lower incarceration costs,” said the Governor. “Our programs at several correctional centers around the state are also helping other inmates and incarcerated veterans get the resources they need to find a place in their communities, and avoid the very same mistakes that sent them to prison.”
The Governor has directed the Juvenile Division of IDOC to aggressively find ways to improve juvenile services and reduce recidivism. The early impact of these results is the largest decline in juvenile parole violations on record in Illinois. From FY 2004 to FY 2005, the juvenile parole technical violation rate dropped by 15.8 percent, helping to bring the violation rate to its lowest level since FY 2000. A juvenile is in technical violation of his or her parole when, among other things they do drugs; rejoin their former gangs; skip school or work; or fail to check in with their parole officer.
IDOC successfully restructured all eight juvenile facilities in the state to keep incarcerated young men and women closer to their home areas. This helps the state promote family support systems and better coordinate reentry services. To reduce the recidivism rate, this year the state launched two new Juvenile Halfway Back programs in the Cook and St. Clair counties designed to provide a 10-14 day intervention program for youth at-risk of being reincarcerated because of difficulty readjusting to their communities.
To enhance that program, the department added a third program at IYC-Joliet, called the Parole Adjustment Center that targets higher-risk youth for a more intensive 30-90 day intervention program. Under this program, youth are housed separately from other inmates, assigned individual reentry caseworkers and spend each day preparing for their return home in addition to meeting their education requirements.
In addition to developing best practices programming for the Juvenile Division, IDOC recently launched a fully dedicated therapeutic community that incorporates aspects of the nationally recognized Missouri Model for juvenile girls at IYC-Pere Marquette. In this program, young girls are enrolled in full-time drug treatment and cognitive skills development programs; go through a personal growth, awareness and development process with individual goal setting; and are given expanded educational and vocational opportunities, before being transitioned into a reentry program once they return home.
The Governor also announced that the Sheridan National Drug Prison and Reentry Program launched in 2004 has helped over one half of program participants find and maintain honest employment, making the program more successful than comparison groups of offenders that exited other prisons from across the state.
In recognizing that drugs are a leading cause of recidivism, the Governor opened the Sheridan National Drug Prison and Reentry Program in January 2004, which aims to become the largest fully dedicated state drug prison and reentry program in the nation. Today, drug-involved offenders at Sheridan undergo an intensive drug treatment, cognitive skills development, vocational and job preparation program. The program begins in the prison setting and follows them through their reentry and back into their communities under an extensive case management program with heightened parole supervision. To date, nearly 2,300 inmates have participated in the Sheridan program, of which 850 have been released back to their communities and on to parole. The program has maintained a 50 percent lower reincarceration rate than comparison groups. In addition, a larger percentage of Sheridan program participants are becoming employed and getting employed sooner, compared to other parolees. More than 54 percent of Sheridan parolees are verified to be currently working, and most of them full-time, while a 30 percent average of other parolees self-report working at any given time during the year.
“The Illinois Department of Corrections continues to take prison-based treatment and reentry management to the next level of performance through its dedication to the successful reentry of inmates into society,” said IDOC Director Roger E. Walker Jr.
The Governor’s Operation Spotlight Parole Reform Program is also addressing public safety through the expansion of IDOC’s parole program. The program enhances parole supervision on the streets through increased monitoring and graduated sanctions. The plan is to increase parole agent staffing over a four-year period. All 35,000 parolees receive direct supervision in the community. The plan addresses short-term crime prevention by enabling agents to more quickly determine which ex-offenders pose a risk to public safety and should be re-incarcerated. It also addresses long-term crime prevention by enabling agents to identify which ex-offenders require greater case management, such as drug treatment, mental health and job preparedness services to prevent re-offending. Operation Spotlight has resulted in putting nearly 100 more parole agents to work in communities, dramatically increased their contacts with parolees and resulted in new case management training programs and specialized parole surveillance units all designed to help reduce crime and recidivism.
Additionally, the Governor announced that an incarcerated veterans program that since 2004 has helped dozens of vets at the Sheridan Correctional Center find jobs, housing opportunities and affordable health care when they get out of prison, has now been expanded to the Taylorville, Dixon, Shawnee and Vienna Correctional Centers.
The Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program (IVTP), is a multi-agency initiative operated by the Illinois Departments of Corrections, Veterans’ Affairs and Employment Security, and aimed at cutting down the recidivism rate among veterans. To date, nearly 300 incarcerated veterans have voluntarily participated in the program, which is expected to further expand to all of the state’s medium and minimum-security correctional centers.
About 18 months prior to release, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs offers inmates the opportunity to participate in the IVTP, which includes counseling on employment and health services as well as assistance with housing arrangements and obtaining I.D. cards.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has a comprehensive approach to helping veterans become job ready. The IDES Veterans Representatives work one on one with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated veterans through an intensive service approach. They conduct employment workshops in prison and continue assistance to their clients after release through job placement assistance. IDES has a dedicated web page on the array of services available to veterans at www.ides.state.il.us, also linked to other state services.
The recidivism rate in Illinois among veterans is 46.9 percent, compared to the overall recidivism rate of 54.6 percent. Currently, 1,400 inmates have self-reported statewide that they are veterans.
“Once they have served their debt to society, we must help our former soldiers get back on their feet. That’s why we go in and sit down with these individuals to tell them about all of the benefits that they will be eligible for after they’re released,” explained Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Roy L. Dolgos.
“IDES is an enthusiastic change agent for incarcerated veterans as they develop skills to find and maintain jobs,” said IDES Director Brenda A. Russell. IDES initiated the program at the Sheridan Correctional Center last year, and spearheaded training conducted at the National Veterans Training Institute in Colorado last summer for staff members working with incarcerated veterans.
“As an added focus on community reentry, the IVTP serves to support reentry by accessing the strengths and needs of veteran offenders and identifying programs and services that will enhance a successful transition into society. These new initiatives and programs also serve as cornerstones in reducing recidivism and increasing public safety,” said IDOC Director Walker.
The program is showing promise for the incarcerated veterans who participate in it. One particular inmate, who entered IDOC in early 2004 as a result of driving under the influence and driving on revoked license charges, was an early participant of the IVTP classes. He now is attending a community college, where he carries a 4.0 GPA, and is gainfully employed in the manufacturing sector. He used the skills he learned through the IVTP to access programs that IDES offers to veterans in the community. He also learned about the Illinois Veterans Grant for college through the IDVA, which pays for his college tuition. In addition, he has completed outpatient treatment in the community.
“The IVTP program has the potential to change lives,” said Jim Fagan, corrections counselor II at Peoria Adult Transition Center and IVTP program coordinator for IDOC. “This program builds upon incarcerated veterans’ strengths by teaching them about programs and services they have earned. The idea is that by using what IDES teaches them about job acquisition and retention and accessing their benefits as taught by IDVA, incarcerated veterans can prepare for and be more successful at free world living.”
Building on his commitment to reduce recidivism, this year, Gov. Blajojevich launched the Community Safety and Reentry Commission to address recidivism and strengthen reentry management. The Reentry Commission is chaired by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Peoria State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons. The goal of the Commission is to develop recommendations that build on successful programs for the design of a statewide reentry system that targets the top 10 regions of the state where the greatest number of ex-offenders are returning home from prison. The Commission has completed its mandate to hold hearings in these 10 state regions and is beginning the report-drafting process that incorporates recommendations from citizens across the state.