Fox Valley Adult Transitional Center
Fox Valley Adult Transitional Center
Fox Valley Adult Transition Center is located in Aurora, Illinois, about 40 miles outside of Chicago. It is a minimum-security female facility and the only female ATC, or work release center, within the Illinois Department of Corrections.
This report updates JHA’s 2014 Fox Valley report, and is based on August 16, 2018 visit. At that time, there were 125 women housed at Fox Valley, the only female work release center of the four remaining ATCs within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). With fewer than 900 ATC beds, work release capacity for men and women within IDOC makes up only 2% of the total system bedspace; this use of transitional community corrections is low compared to other states. Connecting returning citizens to employment opportunities is critical to their future success, as former prisoners in general, and formerly incarcerated black women in particular, suffer higher rates of future unemployment.
Coupled with this visit, JHA piloted an anonymous and voluntary reentry survey designed to examine and gather more data regarding how residents felt they were prepared as returning citizens for reentry, both within prisons and in work release. JHA similarly piloted the reentry survey on July 23, 2018 at a male ATC, North Lawndale, which is operated contractually with IDOC by the Safer Foundation. Responses and data from these surveys are discussed throughout this report, the pilot survey tool is attached as Appendix A, and additional data and comments from the survey responses compose Appendix B.
Input from this pilot reinforced JHA’s long-held belief that IDOC must meaningfully and continually evaluate the impact of programming efforts beyond the collection of systemwide recidivism data, which masks differences in needs and service provision within its population. While encouragingly, statewide recidivism numbers are dropping,5 blatant programmatic deficits, as well as individual missed opportunities and harms gleaned from JHA reentry survey responses and discussions with incarcerated individuals and staff, again draw attention to the critical need for ongoing improvements at both the departmental policy and facility levels. Fox Valley, like other IDOC facilities, does not track recidivism at the facility level; however, administrators believed that IDOC’s research department should be able to determine recidivism by facility. While individuals commonly move from one facility to another over the course of their incarceration, certain facility placements or program participation have expected effects that should be measured. JHA continues to observe major inconsistences at IDOC facilities that will result in disparate outcomes, at times between facilities, and at times for men and women. This must be addressed.
JHA also urges IDOC to more equitably and effectively use resources to better prepare people to return to useful citizenship and reduce prison population. Critical to this effort is placing and programming people appropriately to optimize limited state resources within the prison system. Reentry preparation should begin at intake to IDOC and be individualized. Beginning such planning for residents only once they come to an ATC causes missed opportunities for future success.
In 2012, when Illinois proposed closing several Adult Transition Centers (ATCs), JHA stated that these centers are ultimately more effective at rehabilitation than prison, and that Illinois needed more ATCs, not fewer. Led by Illinois State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia, Fox Valley successfully fought back against the 2012 proposed closure. Administrators noted that the facility continues to benefit from community and local legislature support. Volunteers and other community members provide many critical services and supports to women at the facility, and Fox Valley residents, in turn, work and provide community service in the area. As Fox Valley is the only female ATC, women come to the facility from all over the state, but staff can help these women transition to parole sites in Aurora if they want to stay there, regardless of whether or not it is the committing county. This too demonstrates the integration and support of the facility and its residents in the community.
ATCs allow minimum-security non-violent incarcerated individuals, determined to be eligible based on state law, to serve the final six months to two years of their sentences in a community-based, work release setting. Generally about 55% of incarcerated women are incarcerated for non-violent property or drug crimes, compared to 35% of men, making women more likely to be deemed eligible for a community release setting. During the visit administrators explained that because about half of incarcerated women in IDOC are minimum-security and about half have to serve less than a year, they would estimate that about 50% of the female IDOC population are at least screenable for an ATC setting.
In fact, in reviewing the draft report, IDOC reported that as of May 31, 2014, 788 women—27%of a population of about 2,917 incarcerated women in IDOC—had less than six months left to serve; therefore, they would be too short on time for ATC placement. However, IDOC reported that even still about 20%, 595 women, were estimated to meet the basic eligibility requirements for ATCs. Yet Fox Valley, the only ATC for women within IDOC,6 makes up less than five percent of female IDOC bedspace. The waitlist for Fox Valley at the time of the February 2014 JHA visit was reported to be 28 women, and is currently 30. When JHA inquired why the waitlist numbers are so low, IDOC responded “eligibility alone doesn’t mean suitability. Each eligible offender is considered separately, not using mere eligibility.” JHA has observed throughout IDOC that low numbers of available placements mean that waitlists often do not accurately capture demand.
JHA hears from many female inmates in IDOC that they want the opportunity for work release. Women who do make it to Fox Valley, for the most part, recognize that this is a rare privilege within IDOC and a much preferable place to do their time than the female prisons, Logan and Decatur Correctional Centers. Fox Valley administrators commented that they try to give women tools to be independent and they stressed the importance of work release for women who must not only learn self-sufficiency but who must often also figure out how to legally provide for their families. They noted programming at Fox Valley is not just about finding a job but providing other individualized help that will facilitate reentry, such as assisting women with obtaining State IDs and connecting women with community resources like substance abuse treatment, or domestic abuse or sexual assault survivor groups.
Inmates at Fox Valley are referred to as “residents.” As residents demonstrate responsibility they are given more earned privileges and freedom to interact with the community and prepare for reentry within a structured environment. Administrators stated that they teach boundaries that aid women upon reentry. Residents can earn leaves to spend time at home with their families. One important factor that JHA believes contributes to the successes of ATCs is that at these facilities, unlike IDOC prisons, counselors are able to actively engage in case management for residents due to having more reasonable caseloads and they make plans for the resident’s reconnection to the community.
JHA continues to recommend that IDOC implement the mandated evidence-based Risk Assets Needs Assessment (RANA) screening tool, SPIn,10 which will permit IDOC to consider the risks, needs, and strengths of individuals in its population and correspondingly reconsider classifications and funding allocations to promote successful reentry.11 Proper implementation of SPIn necessitates hiring more counselors to assess and manage all IDOC inmates. In review of this draft report IDOC acknowledged that due to funding and staffing issues RANA is on hold.
Meanwhile, research suggests that limited correctional agency resources are in fact better allocated to higher risk offenders, e.g., it may be more important to provide transitional services to those who may have the most difficult time transitioning. With this in mind, JHA advocates reframing ATCs as step-down facilities for appropriate inmates within two-years of parole and expanding capacity and eligibility. This is no small task and will require proper implementation of evidence-based risk assessment, changes to laws, and reallocation of resources. However, the size of the task does not mean that it cannot be undertaken. Other states have used such methods to successfully reduce recidivism and their prison populations, as Illinois must do.13 Front end diversion, sentencing credits, and electronic detention, not ATCs, are likely more appropriately used as incentives for low level, low-risk inmates, who do not show as great a benefit, and even may display a detriment, from intensive programming.
This report addresses: Alternatives for Low-Risk Inmates and Fox Valley ATC: Successes, Eligibility, Level System, Budgeting, Employment, Education, Living Conditions, Transportation, Healthcare, Substance Abuse Treatment, Resident Perspectives, and Staffing.