Lake County, Il., Sheriff Mark Curran walked into the county jail yesterday wearing a gray suit and necktie, but changed into the outfit he’ll wear for the next week: a navy blue inmate uniform and a pair of ill-fitting, plastic jail slippers, reports the Chicago Tribune. “It’s somewhat surreal,” said Curran, who was elected to his post in 2006 after stints as a county, state and federal prosecutor. A publicity stunt? Perhaps. Curran calls a voluntary, seven-day foray among those on other side of the law as a way to raise awareness of the jail’s anti-recidivism efforts and glean firsthand knowledge of how it can improve on those programs. “I believe that I can be a better sheriff by having a better understanding of jail operations from the perspective of an inmate,” he said. “Because the idea came to me in a church, I believe it is divinely inspired.”
Curran intends to learn how to improve programs to help inmates succeed on the outside and draw attention to initiatives in the jail that might work at state prisons. The sheriff will spend his first three nights in his own 6-by-8-foot cell. Then he will spend two nights in a general population cell arranged around a day room where inmates play cards and watch television. He will participate in a substance abuse support group and take GED, computer, and “family communication” classes, as well as work in the kitchen and on a road cleanup crew. He will eat with other inmates, though jail food is not his “cup of tea.” The jail houses about 650 inmates, most awaiting trial; charges range from petty misdemeanors to sexual assault and murder. Curran has been assured he would not be in danger. “Him being my boss, I wouldn’t even allow this if I didn’t think it was reasonably safe,” said Jennifer Witherspoon, the sheriff’s chief of corrections.