Sheridan National Model

Drug Prison & Reentry Program
Working to Reduce a Leading Cause of Crime in Illinois


“Illinois leads the nation in drug-related crimes.  We should lead the nation in drug crime prevention.  Today, I am announcing that we will re-open Sheridan prison as a national model institution aimed solely at deterring drug crime.  Drug addicts return to the streets – only to land right back in jail – after finding new victims and committing new crimes.  Since more criminals are in Illinois prisons for drug-related offenses – the more we reduce drug crime, the safer our streets will be.”

--Governor Rod Blagojevich, State of the State Address, March 12, 2003

The Revolving Prison Door:  Confronting the highest recidivism rates in Illinois history at a time when record numbers of parolees have been released from prison into our communities.  Governor Rod Blagojevich has launched the re-opening of Sheridan prison on January 2, 2004 -- at a time when the state of Illinois is confronting the highest recidivism rate in state history of 54 percent.  At this rate, it is projected that over one-half of the over 36,000 adult inmates estimated to be released from prison this year will be re-incarcerated within three years – after committing a new crime, finding new victims or violating their parole.

Drugs:  A leading public safety factor in rising recidivism rates.  Among the key contributing factors of offenders’ recidivism is drug addiction, whether it is felony possession of drugs, theft to support a drug habit or another offense or parole violation committed while an offender was under the influence of drugs. The top three classes of state prison inmates with the highest recidivism rates are:  Property Offenders at 60.1 percent, Sex Offenders with 55.3 percent and Drug Offenders at 53.3 percent.  High recidivism rates among both drug and property offenses can be particularly devastating when one considers that these populations represent most of the inmate population:  39.3 percent (13,558) of all prison admissions in 2003 were for drug crimes and another 30.3 percent (10,456) were for property crimes, many of which are believed to be to support a drug addiction.  Thus, it can be estimated that as many as 69 percent of all 34,481 adult inmates admitted to prison in 2003 served time for a drug-involved crime.  In addition, more than 60 percent of all arrestees statewide and 82 percent of all arrestees in Chicago tested positive for at least one illegal drug at their time of their apprehension.

The Drug Crisis in Illinois:  Leading the nation in drug trafficking, drug-induced crimes, drug-related emergency room admissions and deaths from drug overdose.  In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice named Chicago a primary market for cocaine, heroin and marijuana, and the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) has attributed the greatest number of emergency department mentions and deaths for cocaine and heroin in the nation to Chicago as well.  In addition, the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM) reported that Chicago has the highest number of male arrestees testing positive for opiates and the second highest for cocaine in the nation.   However, the drug problem in Illinois is not confined only to the Chicago region with the rise in abuse of highly addictive methamphetamine, a drug most commonly manufactured and distributed in rural areas.  As a matter of fact, meth abuse treatment admissions from Downstate rural counties has increased from 46 to 1,609 between 1992 and 2002, accounting for more than 70 percent of all meth treatment admissions in Illinois.  This problem is further exacerbated by the close proximity of many Downstate communities to bordering states, Missouri and Iowa, which have both been as primary markets for the drug.

The Sheridan Project:  An opportunity to make Illinois a national leader in drug prevention and community crime reduction.  By re-opening SheridanCorrectionalCenter with the goal of becoming a national model drug prison and reentry program, Governor Blagojevich is taking on a root cause of repeat crime in Illinois.  While this project will not resolve a drug problem overnight that took decades to develop, it is the Governor’s hope that it will establish a successful model for giving the state and its communities the tools they need to address a leading cause of recidivism with an approach that balances both tough law enforcement as well as common sense prevention.  In building this model, the Governor established a team of national, state and local experts that built a program based on national best practices, community input and recommendations about how to improve upon lessons learned in other states.  This group will continue an ongoing dialogue and seek outside evaluation to track the performance and improve upon the program to help it earn its status as a national model.

The following are key components of the program:

Largest fully-dedicated state drug prison 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.

Targeting a high recidivism rate population:  In order to begin to reign in recidivism in Illinois, the Governor is taking on the challenge of directly targeting a population with some of the highest recidivism rates in the state.  Consistent with statistics showing a 53.3 percent recidivism rate for drug offenders and a 60.1 percent recidivism rate for property offenders (many of which are believed to have committed their crimes to support a drug addiction), the population projections for Sheridan inmates show a history of 12 prior arrests, with an average of nearly seven prior arrests for property crimes, 3.5 prior drug-law violation arrests, more than 2.5 prior arrests for violation crimes and an average of three prior arrests for other crimes.  Both homicide offenders and sex offenders are excluded from the program.

Projections on geographic distribution show promise of statewide impact, but highlight need in Chicago/Collar County region:  Over 66 percent of the population projected to participate in the Sheridan project are from Chicago and the CollarCounty region.  The top ten Downstate counties with the highest projected participation rates include (in order):  Macon, Winnebago, Champaign, Peoria, St. Clair, McLean, Madison, Sangamon, Tazewell and Rock Island.

Eligibility structure for program is fairly unique:  The eligibility structure for the Sheridan project is fairly unique in the nation because it takes on a medium security population, and because it takes on offenders with three lengths of sentences – 6-9 months, 9-12 months and 12-24 months.  Most facilities in the nation take on only a smaller, minimum security population, and a more specific sentence period.  Sheridan is taking on the 6-9 month population because they tend to cycle in-and-out of prisons for short periods of time and never truly gain access to a consistent set of drug treatment services either in prison or in the community.  The project is taking on the 9-12 month population because that is projected to be the most effective length of time for an offender to successfully experience a therapeutic model treatment program.  Finally, the program has chosen to continue the program for the 12-24 month population in order to graduate those staying beyond 12 months into a more intensive vocational, job placement and reentry life skills set of programs.

Implementing nationally-recognized best practices for successful crime reduction:  The Sheridan Working Group sought national best practices from programs that have proven to reduce crime and recidivism and to address drug addiction.  Overwhelmingly, experts cited that the most successful programs used a “therapeutic community” model to provide drug treatment in prisons, but that they could not continue their success without the development of extensive community partnerships and reentry programs targeting job placement and aftercare services that teach offenders to responsibly manage their addiction and a crime-free lifestyle in the community.  In awarding contracts for the program, it was stipulated that all providers show previous experience in establishing best practices and reducing recidivism in Illinois or across the nation in these areas.

The drug treatment programming at the prison facility will be operated under the successfully proven “therapeutic community” model by Gateway, who has reported experiencing as low as a 5 percent recidivism rates among smaller group populations in similar programs that they have operated in Texas.  By awarding a contract for job readiness and placement to the SAFER Foundation, the state is hoping to draw upon SAFER’s past success in reducing recidivism by as much as 61 percent among offenders served by their programs.  Finally, TASC, Inc. will be managing the clinical reentry process for each offender, and will be basing their practices upon studies that have shown that drug offenders who received 12-15 months of treatment in prison followed by at least six months of aftercare training upon release were twice as likely to be drug-free than offenders who received prison-based treatment alone.

Historic community collaboration and capacity-building:  One of the unique aspects of the Sheridan project is the level of national, state and local collaboration established by the Governor in planning the project – a practice that many community grassroots organizations have deemed to be historic in the state.  The Sheridan Working Group took into account an assessment of community needs in the most highly-impacted regions, law enforcement challenges, feedback from interviews with ex-offenders, national best practices to employ at the facility and sought ideas from providers about ways to improve upon those best practices.

As part of this process, national experts have identified great promise in the projected launch of a new Sheridan pilot program, which will create three Community Support and Advisory Councils (CSAC) in some of the most highly impacted communities of the state – Chicago’s West Side, Chicago’s South Side and Decatur.  Consisting of local membership from various sectors, including faith-based, law enforcement, economic development experts and social service providers, these councils will be responsible for developing annual community capacity-building recommendations to the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, developing partnerships with business leaders to discuss the economic impacts of crime in their communities and job placement issues, communicating community safety concerns regarding reentering offenders with law enforcement and working with ex-offenders involved in Sheridan to identify challenges in achieving success.  In addition, the department has already held community capacity building and training sessions in at least 4 high-need areas of the state and briefed over 300 community providers on the Sheridan project, how to become an approved vendor and how to communicate community concerns to the department.

Creating the most extensive, targeted community reentry program in state history:  In addition to community-capacity building, experts identified reentry programming to be one of the most important factors in successful reduction of recidivism.  The Sheridan project’s reentry programming will begin the day that an offender reaches the facility where accountability and responsible crime-free living will be stressed along with recovery from addiction.  The reentry of all offenders back into their communities upon completion of their sentence will be managed by a team led by a parole agent providing intensified law enforcement supervision with the goal of moving the offender away from returning to criminal and drug-related activities and toward honest jobs, and a drug-free and crime-free life.  The parole agent’s case management will be supported by both TASC clinical case managers who will move offenders through a year-long aftercare program that includes substance abuse treatment, family reunification issues, and anger management issues as well as by an intensive job readiness and placement program operated by the SAFER Foundation.  Incentives, alternatives as well as sanctions will be imposed on parolees involved in the program to move them toward rehabilitation.  If the offender poses a threat to their community at any time during their parole, however, their agent will send them back to prison.

Taking on the False Choice:  A common sense vision for combining both tougher law enforcement and proven community-based prevention.  The Sheridan project is being launched in connection with the Governor’s “Operation Spotlight” Parole Reform program, which will double the number of parole agents and create an improved case management model designed to reduce recidivism and improve public safety. Governor Blagojevich believes that through establishing smaller caseloads for the state’s parole agents, they can better manage the return of record numbers of offenders to Illinois communities.  With increased numbers and improved training, agents will now be able to better assess, for example, when to return a parolee back to prison for posing a risk to their community, but also when to direct a nonviolent offender to drug treatment as a more effective alternative.  Specialized training has already begun within parole regarding the management of the returning Sheridan population later this year.

Smart Budget Investment in Prevention.  Governor Blagojevich’s decision to re-open Sheridan prison as a national model program is a smart investment in both prevention and public safety.  Various studies have estimated that for every dollar spent on prevention, such as drug treatment, the taxpayer can save as much as $7 in the long-term on reduced costs to society for incarceration, health care and other costs to victims, increased employment among those that would have been incarcerated, and improved overall social functioning in communities.