Historic Reduction in Repeat Crimes by Ex-Offenders

Gov. Blagojevich announces historic reduction in repeat crimes by ex-offenders, slower rate of growth in state's prison population

New statistics show major progress from Governor's comprehensive effort to reduce recidivism Releases Community Safety & Reentry Commission report and plan to continue work as new stats show Chicago's murder and violent crime rates on the rise.  Inside Out: A Plan to Reduce Recidivism and Improve Public Safety (pdf)

CHICAGO - Joined by law enforcement officials, community leaders, faith-based leaders and state officials, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that statewide reforms have led to historic reductions in crimes by former offenders and significant savings for taxpayers. An intensive effort launched by the Governor in fiscal year 2004 to provide incarcerated offenders and parolees with access to education, job training, substance abuse treatment and counseling has led to the lowest conviction rate among parolees in state history, a 23% reduction in arrests among the general parolee population, and a 40% reduction in repeat incarceration among parolees with substance abuse histories who graduated from the Sheridan Drug and Reentry Program. The drop in recidivism has saved the State an estimated $64 million in incarceration costs since 2004.

As new statistics released late last week show that the murder rate in Chicago is up by nine percent and the violent crime rate is up by six percent for the first quarter of 2008, the Governor released a Blue Ribbon report with additional recommendations for further reducing recidivism and committed to pursuing implementation.

"Being tough on crime means being smart about fighting crime. The reality is that offenders who are sent to prison are most likely going to be back in our communities sooner or later. And when they return, if they don't have the skills and support to lead clean and productive lives, they are most likely going to end up committing crimes again. The vicious cycle of recidivism weakens communities, destroys families and puts a huge burden on the State's finances. That's why back in 2004 we took launched an aggressive new approach to preparing offenders for reentry into their communities," said Gov. Blagojevich. "I am pleased to announce that we have achieved record reductions in the state's recidivism rates due to groundbreaking initiatives. But the latest crime statistics for Chicago show that violent crime is on the rise, so it's critical that we continue building on our progress and making sure we give offenders who are coming in to the prison system the tools they need to put crime behind them for good."

When Gov. Blagojevich entered office in 2003, the state was confronted with a dangerous combination: a rising prison population, record numbers of inmates being released from prison and record recidivism rates that were primarily the result of drug- and drug-related crimes.

Recognizing that the majority of offenders being sent to Illinois prisons in record numbers were eventually going to be returning to our communities, Gov. Blagojevich directed his administration to develop and implement the most comprehensive recidivism reduction plan in state history. The plan had three components:

  1. The Sheridan National Model Drug Prison & Reentry Program to address the alarming correlation between substance abuse and crime rates. At the time of its inception, an estimated 69% of new inmates were convicted for drug-involved crimes. The Sheridan model targets offenders with substance abuse problems and provides intensive treatment, job training, and counseling during incarceration, and substantial support during the reentry process. Last year the State built on the success of Sheridan and opened a 200-inmate model meth treatment program at Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center.
  2. Operation Spotlight Parole Reform Plan, which put 100 more parole agents on the streets statewide and significantly improved the scope and level of case management services for parolees to keep them on track upon reentry. There are now eight Spotlight Reentry Center locations statewide that work with nearly 8,000 parolees annually to reduce their risk to their communities and provide case management services to those seeking ways to live crime- and drug- free and secure honest work. In addition, the State has launched one of the largest transitional jobs programs in the nation that works to move over 800 ex-offenders annually toward employment.
  3. Community Safety & Reentry Commission created by Gov. Blagojevich to develop a statewide plan for reducing recidivism in ten target regions with high ex-offender populations. The Commission was charged with holding statewide meetings to hear the concerns and suggestions of communities with high ex-offender populations, and with researching successful state and national models.

New statistics from the Illinois Department of Corrections show that since the launch of the plan, the State has successfully rolled back recidivism rates from their record levels, reduced the rate of new crime among parolees and slowed the rate of growth of the prison population.

  • Reforms have led to the lowest conviction rates for parolees in state history. The number of new convictions for crimes among parolees has decreased by over 18% from 4,567 in FY04 to 3,742 in FY07.
  • Total arrests among parolees experienced a 23% decline from FY04 to FY07.
  • Participants in the Sheridan Drug Prison & Reentry program, which has been called a national model, have exhibited recidivism rates up to 40% lower than comparison groups.
  • Despite record high admissions for lower felony class drug offenses and long-term Truth-in-Sentencing for serious offenses, the prison population has increased by only 4.5% since the end of FY02, which is the slowest rate of growth over any similar time frame since the Department of Corrections was established in FY70.
  • Because of the reduction in repeat crimes, taxpayers have saved an estimated $64 million in prison costs since 2004.

"I want to thank the Governor for creating the Sheridan program. I grew up in Englewood, and so I know what drugs and crime have done to our communities. I am the child of both a previously incarcerated mother and father, and I have seen the cycle pass onto my own son. I was a user and abuser of cocaine for since the age of 25, have been in-and-out of prison five different times, and even after seeing my own son do time in prison, it wasn't until the Sheridan program that I decided to make a true change in my life for the better. The Sheridan program instills hope in you, and faith in yourself that you can do better. Today, I am a successful business owner and have started a gym to help prevent other children from making the mistakes I did. This is personal for me. I want to give back to my community," said 47-year-old Andrew Atchison, who was released from Sheridan over three years ago, the longest time he has been out of prison without reincarceration.

"As the nation struggles with record prison populations, more people leaving prison, and high rates of recidivism, Illinois' recent progress serves as a model for reform," said Jeremy Travis, former Director of the National Institute of Justice, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and founder of the national Reentry Roundtable. "This success comes from Governor Blagojevich's strategy of linking corrections programs with smart reentry supervision and community capacity-building."

In addition to announcing the record recidivism reductions today, the Governor also released the "Inside Out: A Plan to Reduce Recidivism and Improve Public Safety" report compiled by the Community Safety & Reentry Commission. The 22-member Commission was Co-Chaired by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Peoria County States Attorney Kevin Lyons.

The Commission's Report is a blueprint for a statewide system that has four phases of implementation to ensure that the reentry process begins from the day that an offender is admitted to prison, that every day spent in prison is focused on preparing for a crime-free and drug-free reentry, that all parolees have a well-supervised and supported reentry that moves them away from drugs and crime and toward honest work and citizenship, and that community capacity is developed to sustain success.

The Governor has already begun work to implement several of the Commission's recommendations:

  • Building Community Capacity: The report called for working with smaller, community-based organizations that work to prevent crime and reduce risk among formerly incarcerated persons. As a result, IDOC has expanded the number of community-based contracts in its base budget by approximately $1 million, and has proposed another increase of $500,000 in FY09 budget.
  • Statewide Job Preparation & Placement Program: The report called for a larger focus on preparing inmates for honest employment while incarcerated and supportive services to identify employment while on parole. As a result, the state has launched a Statewide Job Prep & Placement Program that is operated by the SAFER Foundation, and is working with community colleges to provide all inmates with job preparation in all prisons statewide, and then a referral program to SAFER offices in the community for job placement programs.
  • A Safer Return: The report called for implementing more model programs that build capacity in high impact communities. A recent partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and the SAFER Foundation, called "Safer Return," will roll out a model this summer that focuses on an entire community, rather than a population, and target intensive community-based resources to all parolees returning to East Garfield Park in Chicago, which has one of the highest numbers of parolees in the City of Chicago.
  • Transition Units: The report called for ensuring that all inmates move through a Transition Unit phase within the last three to six months of their sentences to ensure that they receive intensive preparation for their reentry to their communities. IDOC is targeting the launch of a new Transition Unit program at six prisons by August, and is working on the gradual rollout of this program to all prisons statewide.

Gov. Blagojevich has appointed Dr. Byron T. Brazier, Pastor, Apostolic Church, to lead an Implementation Task Force that will advise the Governor on rolling out other report recommendations. The Task Force will work with the Illinois Dept. of Human Services, the Illinois Dept. of Corrections and will consist of members of the Commission and the Working Group.

"This state needs systemic solutions to address the challenges of recidivism. I am looking forward to helping lead the team to take the tremendous progress we have made in Illinois under Governor Blagojevich's leadership to the next step," said Dr. Brazier.

The Governor also called attention to the "Second Chance Act", a new federal law sponsored by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, that requires states to develop reentry plans and authorizes federal funding to support such plans. The Governor urged Congress to fully fund the new plan and support Illinois' proven approach to reducing recidivism and strengthening public safety.

"I commend the Governor and the Illinois Department of Corrections for being a leader in recidivism reduction and for their efforts to make sure we receive full funding for the Second Chance Act of 2007," said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago), who joined the Governor today.

Quotes from other key supporters and members of Illinois' recidivism reform initiatives:

"We understand that the day someone enters a correctional institution is the day we need to begin planning for their release. Comprehensive assessment, prescriptive plans, and the provision of tools which prepare the individual for a productive life will decrease recidivism and increase successful community reentry. Our strategy is holistic and includes housing, employment, family reunification, and partnering with key community organizations and faith-based institutions," said Carol L. Adams, Ph.D., Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services.

"I was very proud to have my department helping to lead this process. Until we began to implement the Governor's plan, we were only experiencing increases in prison admissions, the prison population and recidivism rates. As a former Sheriff, I will say that did not help improve public safety. I strongly support the approach we have taken, and am looking forward to continuing our work to implement the Governor's report," said IDOC Director Roger E. Walker Jr.

"The State of Illinois is leading the nation in its efforts to reduce crime and recidivism. It is not common that a state can reduce both technical violation rates, new conviction rates and arrest rates statewide. This is the type of progress that has required tremendous leadership by Gov. Blagojevich and partnerships among both corrections and social service officials," said Joan Petersilia, Professor Criminology, University of California, Irvine, and author of the book "When Prisoners Come Home".

"By engaging a broad base of state residents in this important discussion about public safety and prisoner reentry with the goal of generating specific solutions, Gov. Blagojevich espoused a powerful model for getting to the root causes of the problems communities face all over the state. The hearings on these issues were inspiring and informative, because they gave the highest crime communities of our state a true voice in addressing the very serious impact of reentry on our families," said Rev. Patricia Watkins of the Developing Justice Coalition, and Co-Chair of the Faith, Family & Community SubCommittee.

"Quietly and without fanfare, this administration has addressed a very important issue. With sound implementation of these recommendations, Illinois can increase public safety, save money, and rebuilt some of our most dangerous communities. Chicago Metropolis 2020, representing the business and civic interests of the region, is committed to these common sense policies," said Paula Wolff, Executive Director of Chicago Metropolis 2020.

"This statewide initiative that was fostered by Governor Blagojevich, IDOC, and IDHS will have a lasting effect on the community's safety, and has birthed new beginnings for the formerly incarcerated, and their families for today and the future. This has placed Illinois in the forefront in regards to prison reentry, and on behalf of myself and the many others who have benefited from the programs that have come out of this initiative, I say Thank You for your vision, and tackling these issues head on and with resolve," said Rev. Leroy Smith Jr., Executive Director of Jesus Cares Outreach, Inc.

"Any reduction in criminal behavior or activity is progress for law enforcement and our communities. The police must be tough on crime, but the likelihood of ex-offenders committing crimes after rehabilitation is far less when programs sponsored by the Governor's Office are available to support parolees, their families and their futures," said Chicago Police Superintendent Jody P. Weis.

"I have been working in the community on this issue and this is the first administration that has made a difference. This is the kind of progress that we need to keep up the fight," said Linda Martin, Executive Director of R.I.T.A.S. Ministry.

"Reentry and recidivism is the number one new trend affecting the nation's crime rate. We looked across the nation for model programs to recommend governors for their states, and the Illinois initiative was at the top of our list. It will make communities safer and save taxpayer dollars," said Jim Kessler, Vice President for Policy at the Washington think tank Third Way and co-author of "The Impending Crime Wave: Four Dangerous New Trends and How to Stop Them.

"Ultimately, this is an issue about public safety and communities. We have made tremendous progress in driving down recidivism rates among our parole population in recent years, largely due to the fact that the Governor provided early, greatly needed resources to invest in several of the report recommendations that are helping us to achieve a stronger balance between strengthening supervision and strengthening community capacity," said Illinois Department of Corrections Assistant Director Deanne Benos. "We are looking forward to implementation of more of the recommendations."