California is studying a special therapeutic prison, the Sheridan Correctional Center in northern Illinois, as a model for its own efforts at drug rehabilitation and job training for convicts. The Illinois program offers one of the most promising means yet for breaking the cycle of revolving-door incarceration that has bloated inmate populations.
In just two years, the recidivism rate among parolees from Sheridan has been slashed by half. Illinois is succeeding, many experts say, because it is attacking the roots of addiction, spending far more per inmate and ensuring that when men leave prison, they are enveloped in an extensive web of support. No state knows more about that cycle of drug users constantly returning to prison than California. Many prison experts regard California as having one of the most poorly designed and poorly managed prison systems in the country. In a sudden election-year burst of activity, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced that he wants not only to embrace the Illinois rehabilitation model, which is costly and labor-intensive, but also to expand it.