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$680,000 in grants to keep people from returning to prison

Thu, Sep 11, 2014

Recidivism Reduction Grants Image #1A virtual high school and a food service training pro¬gram are among 16 recipients of $680,000 in “recidivism reduction” grants from the Cook County Justice Advisory Council.

“Reducing recidivism is critical to keeping our communities safe,” Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said during the announcement at In¬spiration Kitchens, 3504 W. Lake St., one of the grantees. “Over a three-year period, about 52 percent of the people involved in our criminal jus¬tice system will be back… and many will be back multiple times.

“The organizations that are receiv¬ing grants today understand the com¬plex factors that lead to recidivism, including lack of education, home¬lessness, substance abuse, trauma and mental illness,” Preckwinkle said. “Their grant proposals offered inno-vative strategies for reducing recidi¬vism in community-based settings.”

In January, the advisory coun¬cil issued a request for proposals for the grants, which are funded at three levels: $100,000, $24,000 and $10,000. A team comprised of advi¬sory council members as well as the sheriff ’s department and office of the public defender viewed proposals to choose the recipients, which will be monitored.

Recipients of $100,000 demonstration grants include:

Housing Authority of Cook County, which will operate a virtual high school for formerly incarcerated youth in Ford Heights and Robbins.

Inspiration Corporation, which will enroll 60 formerly incarcerated individuals in employment preparation training and 40 formerly incarcerated people in food service training.

WestCare Illinois, which will provide aftercare services – coun¬seling, substance abuse and mental health treatment programs – to 75 adults and youths who have been re¬leased from incarceration.

West Side Health Authority, which will provide at least 75 people with employment services, including placement in meaningful jobs with a six-month retention rate of 75 percent or greater.

Youth Outreach Services, which will match 75 young people released from the Evening Reporting Center with mentors and access to clinical ser¬vices and drop-in programming.

$24,000 seed grants were awarded to:
• Chicago Lawyers Committee
• Lawndale Amachi Mentoring Program (LAMP)
• Spanish Action Committee of Chi¬cago (SACC)
• St. Leonard’s Ministries
• Universal Family Connection

$10,000 mini-seed grants went to:
• Allison Foundation for Better Living
• Behavioral Services Center
• First Defense Legal Aid
• Greater Auburn Gresham Develop¬ment Corporation
• Northwest Middle School
• Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke thanked the Justice Ad¬visory Council for the grants “be¬cause as judges we see so many people who continue to suffer along with their families because of a poor deci¬sion the person has made in the past. We know that often these people could return to the community to turn their lives around with the right help, the kind of help that comes from organizations like yours receiving the grants today.”

Preckwinkle touring Inspiration Kitchens

Preckwinkle touring Inspiration Kitchens

Sanchez Brown came to work at Inspiration Kitchens through St. Leonard’s Ministries, (which is also receiving a grant for a high school program). He said he was touched by Burke’s words, “that judges sitting be¬hind the bench go across a lot of pa¬perwork about people who made bad choices.”

In a St. Leonard’s employment prep¬aration training class, Brown said he learned that his own bad behavior sent him to Cook County Jail and the Il¬linois Department of Corrections. He realized he needed to commit himself to the way his grandparents raised him in the South. Later, he said that the sense of peace he has doing mainte-nance work at Inspiration Kitchens is more important than money.

Brown said that he didn’t believe there were resources to help him un¬til he was at St. Leonard’s Ministries. There he found people, he said, who were doing more than just collect¬ing a paycheck, but “showing love and helping [him] walk through the process.”

“What this is all about is the tes¬timonial you heard from Sanchez Brown,” said Cook County Commis¬sioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, whom Preckwinkle called her “floor leader.”
Garcia said Preckwinkle’s commit¬ment to reducing the Cook County Jail population takes courage. Yet the “return on the investment,” he said, is the possibility of “a healthier neigh¬borhood and healthier society that is not just about punishment but about second chances and rehabilitation and repairing the torn fabric of our neigh-borhoods and communities.”

The Cook County Justice Advi¬sory Council’s $680,000 in grants for fiscal 2015 are a 70 percent increase over last year’s $400,000, Preckwin¬kle said. “Frankly, my goal is to try to reduce the number of people accused of nonviolent crimes detained for pre¬trial in our jail so we can free up more money for initiatives like this.”

When she assumed the County Board presidency three years ago, Preckwinkle said, the average daily population in the Cook County Jail was 10,000, while today the number is 8800, a 10 percent decline. Yet 93 out of 100 are merely awaiting trial and of those, 70 percent are accused of nonviolent crimes. She said the jail population could be brought safely down to 7500, with many people re¬leased on electronic monitoring.

During the press conference that followed, ABC7’s Charles Thom¬as asked Preckwinkle if the Cook County Sheriff, jail employees, and even those doing business with the jail might not resist a 25 percent cut in the size of their department – and in commensurate tax dollars.

“My goal is to reduce the jail popu¬lation by finding alternatives to de¬tention for people accused of non¬violent crimes and to redirect that money for violence prevention and recidivism,” Preckwinkle responded. “A jail is a prison both for those who are there and those who are guards. The people who are jail guards count the days until their retirement.”

Juliana Stratton, who is executive director of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, said that over time, reducing the jail population would al¬low the County to close tiers, which in turn would free up more funds for recidivism efforts. “We are not there yet. We have a lot more to reduce the population.”

Meanwhile, the grants came from general funds separate from the jail; no separate taxes were involved, Stratton said.

During a tour of the Garfield Park Inspiration Kitchens site with Mar¬garet Haywood, its director of work¬force development, Preckwinkle pondered a statistic that of 100 en¬rollees, only 50 are expected to grad¬uate.

“It’s a very difficult population to serve,” Preckwinkle said. “Does that account for the high attrition rate?”

“The biggest dropout rates come in the first few weeks of the 13-week program, when people deal with actually coming to work on time, working in the kitchen and with oth¬er people,” Haywood said. To help with retention, Inspiration Kitchens also offers a four-week workshop on life skills, with meditation and yoga; the idea is to shift attitudes so that students react mindfully rather than in anger.

Haywood showed off solar tubes that provide hot water, comput¬ers where trainees could work on resumes and even a bulletin board where trainees could announce job interviews or sessions where restau¬rants asked them to show off their skills for prospective jobs.

There were showers and also wide windows to the park outside. It is the brightest kitchen they may ever work in, Haywood said. The windows pro¬vide a lovely view but mostly, “they are so the public can see in. There is a preconception of ‘homeless people, felons making my food.’ [But] every¬thing is clean and well-ordered. The people are clean and well-ordered.”

By Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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