Juvenile recidivism drops
by more than 15%      
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More than half of Sheridan Drug Prison and Reentry Program parolees have been able to find and retain jobs

More incarcerated veterans can now get job skills, health services and housing opportunities through a newly expanded program

[SEPT. 29, 2005]  SPRINGFIELD -- Delivering on his promise to fight recidivism, increase public safety and reduce the cost of crime, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced Wednesday 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 fiscal 2000. The dramatic decline is the result of the Illinois Department of Corrections 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 provide individualized drug treatments, counseling and education services, and skills development to ease the 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," the governor said. "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. 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 the Department of Corrections to aggressively find ways to improve juvenile services and reduce recidivism. The early result of these efforts is the largest decline in juvenile parole violations on record in Illinois. From fiscal 2004 to fiscal 2005, the juvenile parole technical violation rate dropped by 15.8 percent, helping to bring the violation rate to its lowest level since fiscal 2000. Juveniles are in technical violation of their 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.

The Department of Corrections 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 re-entry services. To reduce the recidivism rate, this year the state launched two new Juvenile Halfway Back programs, in 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 programming, the department added a third program, called the Parole Adjustment Center, at IYC-Joliet. This program targets higher-risk youth for a more intensive 30-90-day intervention. Under the program, youth are housed separately from other inmates, assigned individual re-entry 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, the Department of Corrections recently launched a fully dedicated therapeutic community at IYC-Pere Marquette, incorporating aspects of the nationally recognized Missouri Model for juvenile girls. 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 re-entry program once they return home.

The governor also announced that the Sheridan National Drug Prison and Reentry Program has helped over 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. It aims to become the largest fully dedicated state drug prison and re-entry program in the nation. Today, drug-involved offenders at Sheridan undergo a program with intensive drug treatment, cognitive skills development, vocational and job preparation. The program begins in the prison setting and follows them through their re-entry 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, and 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 with 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 re-entry management to the next level of performance through its dedication to the successful re-entry of inmates into society," said Roger E. Walker Jr., department director.

The governor's Operation Spotlight program is also addressing public safety through the expansion of the parole program in the Department of Corrections. The new 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 reincarcerated. 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.

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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 correctional centers at Taylorville, Dixon, Shawnee and Vienna.

The Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program is a multiagency initiative operated by the Illinois departments of Corrections, Veterans' Affairs and Employment Security and is 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 program, which includes counseling on employment and health services as well as assistance with housing arrangements and obtaining ID cards.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security has a comprehensive approach to helping veterans become job-ready. Representatives from the department work one-on-one with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated veterans through an intensive service approach. Department staff members conduct employment workshops in prison and continue assistance to their clients after release, through job placement assistance. The department has a Web page at http://www.ides.state.il.us/vets/default.asp on the array of services available to veterans, and there are also links to other state services.

The recidivism rate in Illinois among veterans is 46.9 percent, compared with 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," said Roy L. Dolgos, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. "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."

"IDES is an enthusiastic change agent for incarcerated veterans as they develop skills to find and maintain jobs," said Brenda A. Russell, director of the Department of Employment Security. The department initiated the veterans 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 re-entry, the IVTP serves to support re-entry by accessing the strengths and needs of veteran offenders and identifying programs and services that will enhance a successful transition into society," said Walker, the state corrections director. "These new initiatives and programs also serve as cornerstones in reducing recidivism and increasing public safety."

The new program is showing promise for the incarcerated veterans who participate in it. One particular inmate, who entered the Department of Corrections in early 2004 as a result of charges of driving under the influence and driving with a revoked license, was an early participant in the Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program classes. He now is attending a community college, where he carries a 4.0 grade-point average, and is gainfully employed in the manufacturing sector. He used the skills he learned through the transition program to access programs that the Department of Employment Security offers to veterans in the community. He also learned about the Illinois Veterans Grant for college through the transition program, 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 Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program coordinator for the Department of Corrections. "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, Blajojevich launched the Community Safety and Reentry Commission this year to address recidivism and strengthen re-entry management. The commission is chaired by the 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 re-entry 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 conduct hearings in these 10 state regions and is beginning the report-drafting process that incorporates recommendations from citizens across the state.

[News release from the governor's office]

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