Employment upon re-entry: prison-based preparedness leads to community-based success.

Author:Hicks, Jodina
Position:CT Feature

On Jan. 2, 2004, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich reopened the Sheridan Correctional Center, a 1,300 bed medium-security facility, as a national model therapeutic prison and re-entry program. The Sheridan model integrates substance abuse treatment with vocational preparedness training and workplace acculturation. Informed by the best treatment and training/placement strategies from across the country, the Illinois Department of Corrections with the Safer Foundation and other service provider staff have crafted a unique research-based approach that is specifically attuned to the treatment needs of Sheridan's inmate population. Sheridan's goal is to offer inmates tools, resources and structured practice of new behaviors so that they will be prepared to manage a drug- and crime-free lifestyle in the community, while developing attachments to the work force and local community. Re-entry programming begins the day the offender arrives at Sheridan where career planning, support networks, accountability and responsible crime-free living are stressed along with recovery from addiction.


Sheridan represents Illinois' efforts to reduce crime and recidivism through proactively addressing the challenges of substance addictions and offender re-entry. The reopening of Sheridan comes at a time when Illinois has 36,000 men and women returning from correctional facilities to their communities. With the state's three-year recidivism rate at the all-time high of 54 percent, this project seeks to offer an innovative approach to reducing recidivism, increasing public safety and improving the cost-effectiveness of taxpayer expenditures.

The DOC selected the Safer Foundation to provide Sheridan inmates with employment readiness and placement services both in prison and in the community. The Safer Foundation is the largest community-based provider of employment services exclusively serving ex-offenders in the country with more than 100,000 job placements since it was established in 1972. Safer has facilities in Chicago, Harvey and Rock Island, Ill., as well as Davenport, Iowa. Its mission is to reduce recidivism by supporting, through a full spectrum of services, the efforts of former offenders to become productive, law-abiding community members. Its programs focus on providing direct, outcome-based services to former offenders, centered on employment acquisition and retention. The Safer Foundation serves more than 7,000 ex-offenders annually through its employment-related services. Safer also works directly with the DOC to administer secured residential transition centers to provide selected offenders the opportunity for transition to the community and employment prior to release. As such, Safer administers two community corrections centers in Chicago (North Lawndale and Crossroads adult transition centers).

A Loyola University study of Illinois recidivism rates in 1999 showed a 56 percent decrease in the recidivism rate among clients Safer placed in employment and a 60 percent reduction in the recidivism rate among those clients who retained employment for 30 days. The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Corrections highlighted the Safer Foundation as a model program for ex-offenders in June 1998, stating that Safer helps ex-offenders not only find good jobs but also develop a mind-set that helps to ensure that they will remain employed and succeed in life.

As a provider of services for the Sheridan initiative, Safer was tasked with designing a job preparedness model program beginning inside the prison with preparedness programming and transitioning to the community with placement supports. Additionally, the DOC selected the Gateway Foundation to provide prison-based therapeutic community drug treatment services and the Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities program to manage the clinical re-entry process for offenders, along with School Board 428 and Illinois Valley Community College to provide educational and vocational training. Sheridan providers were selected based on their experience with best practices and demonstrated success in reducing recidivism in Illinois. Additionally, community-based organizations have been selected to provide housing and substance abuse support upon release.

Safer's Sheridan model provides a broad range of employment readiness services, including aptitude/interest assessments, individualized career preparedness action plans, job preparedness training, vocational training strategies, job shadowing/competency achievement, employment acquisition and retention tools, and job placement and coaching supports.

In its model creation, the Safer Foundation conducted a thorough assessment of the best practice knowledge it gleaned from three decades of service delivery, as well as research from the work force and the corrections field. What follows is a brief overview of Safer's research that informed its creation of the Safer Sheridan model, as well as a description of its model program.


A report by the Urban Institute (1) based on analyses of 400 inmates returning to Chicago found that the majority of...

To continue reading