Anthony Edwards of Illinois was in and out of state prison for robberies, thefts, and a weapons offense linked to his cocaine habit. The Chicago Sun-Times said he finally found the motivation to straighten out his life when he was transferred to Sheridan Correctional Center a year ago. “They put a lot of emphasis on my re-entry into society,” said Edwards, an ex-gang member who lives in Joliet and attends college now. “We made resumes, cover letters, did mock interviews.”
Sheridan closed in 2002 and reopened a year ago as a prison that focuses exclusively on drug treatment. There are about a dozen “drug prisons” in the country; Illinois authorities believe Sheridan is the largest. Preliminary statistics that show the strategy is working. Dave Olson of Loyola University compared the first 150 inmates paroled from the Sheridan program with a group of other parolees with similar histories. About 12 percent of the Sheridan parolees were arrested again — compared with 27 percent from the other group. “What makes these initial findings even more impressive is the fact that the participants in the program have very extensive substance abuse and criminal histories,” Olson said. There are 1,100 beds at the prison, which is about 70 miles southwest of Chicago.