Unlike most prisons, Illinois’s Sheridan facility immerses its 900 inmates in an environment tightly focused on education, beating addictions, and learning the skills needed to find and keep a job, the Chicago Tribune reports. From sunup to sundown, inmates are engaged. Classes and counseling sessions are mandatory, and there’s no such thing as a day off. Once prisoners are released, they continue to receive counseling and job placement help in the Chicago communities they return to, a sizable departure from the traditional monitoring by a parole agent. State officials hope the program will become a national model for prison reform.
A shuttered state penitentiary, Sheridan reopened last year as a laboratory designed to cut back on the statistic that two-thirds of the more than 600,000 ex-convicts released each year will be re-arrested within three years, and about half will return to prison for a new crime or parole violation. The Sheridan initiative, with a nearly $30 million annual budget, is one of the strongest indicators yet that states, strapped by the $60 billion annual cost of overflowing prisons, are ready to change their philosophy on incarceration. The program is too new to evaluate fully. So far, about 13 percent of parolees released from Sheridan have returned to prison, compared with 25 percent of inmates from other state facilities–a nearly 50 percent reduction in recidivism. “We have a long way to go,” said Deanne Benos, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Corrections. “But it’s incredibly promising.” The Tribune describes the program in detail.