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Five-year anniversary of IDOC's Women and Family Services Division focuses on best practices and re-entry management for the female offender     Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 26, 2004]  This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Women and Family Services Division of the Illinois Department of Corrections. The division, which was created in 1999, serves an important milestone in the recognition of the unique issues female offenders face. Within a secure atmosphere, the division provides a continuum of programs and services under the supervision of a well-trained professional staff, beginning at reception and continuing through parole.

"The Illinois Department of Corrections is taking prison-based treatment and re-entry management to the next level of performance through its dedication to the successful re-entry of inmates into society," said IDOC Director Roger E. Walker Jr. "The programs under the Women and Family Services Division are designed to address the unique medical, social, psychological and education needs of the committed female offender. The division also serves the needs of the female offender by the development of special programs that recognize, support and maintain her parental role and responsibilities."

Institutions under the Women and Family Services Division are Dwight Correctional Center and the Kankakee Minimum Security Unit that serves as Dwight's satellite facility, Decatur Correctional Center, Lincoln Correctional Center, Fox Valley Adult Transition Center (work release center), Women's Treatment Center, and Illinois Youth Center-Warrenville.

"Treatment and services for women are based on their competencies and strengths and promote self-reliance," said Deputy Director of Women Family Services Debbie Denning. "Focus groups are held throughout the division that address healing from trauma, domestic violence and sexual assault as well as grief understanding and relationship building."

All female facilities are dedicated to treating substance abuse. Denning said that substance abuse treatment is designed to be gender-specific and deals with pathways into substance-abusing behavior. To fully address the needs of female inmates, the programs use a variety of interventions and individualized treatment plans. Spiritual programs also are encouraged and considered an important element of the holistic treatment concept. Women involved in substance-abuse programs additionally are given an opportunity to parole into treatment environments through the Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities re-entry initiative.

All of the women's facilities offer parenting programs.

"The division continually promotes a variety of programs to strengthen and reinforce the bonding between mothers and their children," Denning said. "Children and families play an important role in the management of offenders in custodial settings."

At IYC-Warrenville, through the FOCUS program, teenage mothers receive visits with their infants in a structured setting separate from the general visiting room. Children receive a warm welcome in the comfortable and well-stocked playroom. Counseling staff monitors visits and advises the mothers regarding parenting practices.

Family activities are in abundance at the adult facilities as well. To support these efforts, Sister Pat Davis continues to charter buses from Chicago to female facilities for family visits. Video visiting programs also have been implemented to facilitate visiting of Cook County children with their mothers. The Women's Treatment Center in Chicago serves as the video site to link children with their mothers at Decatur. The Department of Corrections has applied for grant funds to expand the programs to Dwight and Lincoln.

Reunification visits on the housing unit at Decatur also have been established year-round for women who meet the criteria. In addition, day camp programs at Lincoln and Dwight bring mothers together with children and storybook programs allow mothers to read books to their children on audiotapes.

Vocational education opportunities are available to the women offenders. Focus is directed on home-based business programs, including food catering, service dog training, kenneling, nail technology and cosmetology. Women also are being trained in higher paying, nontraditional fields such as carpentry, electrical services and building maintenance.

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A part of the vocational initiative is the linkage between the vocational program and employers in the community who are willing to hire ex-offenders. The division plans to use job fairs and community sponsors to further enhance re-entry efforts.

"The goal is to expand home-based business opportunities for the female offender as well as create a foundation for financial independence for the mother and her children," Denning said.

The Women and Family Services Division also promotes cultural awareness and sensitivity through the resources and strengths available through staff, volunteers and community organizations.

"Mentoring programs are being developed to assist in bridging the gap between prison and community. These programs link the female offender to a positive female role model from the community to which the offender will return. Mentors assist with giving the parolee moral support, job re-entry advice and guidance for community resources," Denning said.

"Transitional programs also are included as part of gender responsive practices with a particular focus on building long-term community support networks for women. All facilities within the Women and Family Services Division have referral sources and funding for transitional assistance in housing, employment and educational needs," Denning said. "This support is through various grant-funded programs as well as through the department's Placement Resource Unit. For instance, the Faith in Transition Program assists women at Decatur and Lincoln Correctional Centers with transitional needs regarding housing and employment training."

To support their re-entry, all women who are released from the Department of Corrections are given the opportunity to take home clothing donated by the community. The clothing ranges from casual to business attire and helps the offender to confidently reintegrate into society without the stigma of being recently released. Donations are accepted by all of the women's facilities.

"A final initiative is to become good neighbors to the community," Denning said. "Community service projects include Wigs for Kids donations, Harvest Walks for the Hungry, Special Olympics activities and Project Linus, in which crocheted and quilted items are donated to critically ill children. Through this joint participation by staff and offenders, the division hopes to raise the level of awareness of volunteerism and good faith to the community."

The Women and Family Services Division is frequently contacted regarding donations. The division freely accepts women's clothing items, scrap material for quilts, crochet yarn, colored paper for crafts, children's toys (without metal), religious materials and greeting card donations. To donate items, please contact the deputy director's office at Dwight Correctional Center at (815) 584-2806, ext. 2291.

Average daily female inmate population
Fiscal 2004

Dwight Correctional Center, 991

Kankakee Minimum Security Unit, 91

Decatur Correctional Center, 514

Lincoln Correctional Center, 952

Fox Valley Adult Transition Center, 124

Women's Treatment Center, 11

Illinois Youth Center - Warrenville, 102

[Illinois Department of Corrections news release]

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