Sheridan Correctional Center

Sheridan Correctional Center

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Sheridan Correctional Center is a medium-security adult male facility located in Sheridan, Illinois, about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago. Among the 27 Illinois Department of Corrections facilities, Sheridan is best known as a preeminent substance abuse treatment facility.

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Monitoring Reports

Executive Summary

In JHA’s prior report on Sheridan, IDOC’s model drug treatment prison, we noted a 25 percent increase in population at the facility between 2010 and 2012. Again the facility’s population has increased at the same rate from 1,600 to over 2,000 in 2013.

Sheridan now also houses nearly 300 medium-security general population inmates in non-substance abuse treatment housing. Hence, administrators must work to maintain the facility’s identity as a “fully-dedicated” substance abuse treatment center given the population growth and introduction of non-program inmates.

At Sheridan, a seasoned administrator expressed that this facility offers inmates their “best chance,” noting that “good programs make good security.” Recidivism for substance abuse treatment inmate participants paroled from Sheridan was demonstrated to be lower than for a comparison group in an Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) study. Yet Sheridan inmates are not radically different in criminal history than others incarcerated in IDOC; in fact, 94 percent of these inmates had five or more prior arrests and nearly two-thirds had served prior prison terms.

From the facility philosophy that “successful reentry begins with the first day of incarceration,” to the intensive substance abuse treatment program, availability of other programming, reentry preparation, and continuity of care with community-based services, there are many reasons why Sheridan inmates succeed. For one, the treatment model practice of referring to an inmate not as an “offender,” as is common throughout IDOC, but as a “client,” helps impart a more productive self-concept to inmates. In addition, giving inmates a positive environment and outlets, such as grounds work and opportunities to help others, has an obvious good effect.

JHA visitors felt administrators’ pride in the facility and noted the enthusiasm and obvious engagement of the other staff during the visit. We were impressed by administrators’ knowledge of issues reported to us by inmates, likely facilitated by open channels of communication with staff. Administrators expressed that the tone of the facility was set by leadership and noted that teamwork is stressed as an important part of professionalism. This teamwork model was noticeable in problem-solving approaches in several areas, where administrators were open to hearing about needs and taking advantage of all available resources. Although JHA noted that many disciplinary tickets were given at the facility and heard from many inmates that administrators and security staff were unduly strict, we were encouraged to hear that changes are being adopted to try to better balance discipline and treatment.

Most concerns noted at Sheridan relate to systemic crowding and lack of resources, which result in challenges in meeting needs across the board. Population increases dictate that a smaller percentage of inmates overall have opportunity to participate in positive programming and create more demand for necessities, such as space, food, healthcare, education, and clothing. Having facilities and specialized housing units near or at operational capacity, and over rated capacity, makes it difficult for IDOC to move inmates when appropriate and limits effective population management. JHA continues to have concerns that increased population at Sheridan may dilute the positive efforts of substance abuse treatment and recommends that IDOC track success measures to ensure program integrity. IDOC responded that an author of the ICJIA study continues to track recidivism data for Sheridan. JHA applauds this continued collaboration, but notes that recidivism data necessarily lags several years behind facility changes.

This report addresses the following areas: Healthcare, Substance Abuse Treatment, Non-Treatment General Population, Family Involvement, Grievances and Discipline, Programming, and Staffing.

Executive Summary

On October 15, 2011, the John Howard Association (JHA) visited Sheridan Correctional Center (Sheridan), a medium-security adult male facility located in Sheridan, Illinois, about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago. Among the 27 Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities, Sheridan is best known as a preeminent substance abuse treatment facility. In 2004, DOC established the Sheridan National Model Drug Prison and Reentry Program at Sheridan. Since that time, Sheridan has come to be nationally and internationally recognized as a leader in correctional substance abuse treatment, and is now the largest prison in the United States wholly dedicated to providing substance abuse treatment. DOC views Sheridan as a point of pride and as a reflection of its larger ambition to create a correctional system that treats and rehabilitates inmates.

As a result of system-wide overcrowding, however, the success of Sheridan’s highly regarded substance abuse treatment program is in peril. Because Sheridan’s mission is founded on treatment and rehabilitation, not simply incarcerating inmates, it struggles more than most Illinois prisons under the burden of overcrowding. As stated by one staff member, “This facility was never designed to treat the number of inmates we are treating now.” For the year 2010, the average inmate population at Sheridan was 1,275. As of March 7, 2012, however, that number had risen substantially, topping over 1,600 inmates, about 123 percent over the facility’s design rated capacity of 1,304 inmates.

Limited bed space and the sheer number of inmates requiring classification and placement across Illinois have also put increased pressures on the process of screening and matching inmates with suitable parent institutions. Some Sheridan staff and administrators reported that, under these pressures, things can be missed in the screening process and less time and attention necessarily can be paid in screening inmates. Staff and administration indicated that, despite the high volume of inmates requiring screening, reception and classification centers and facilities are generally effective in identifying inmates who are obviously inappropriate candidates for the Sheridan treatment program. Data confirms that screening is by and large effective, insofar as the total number of inmates requiring transfer from Sheridan for disciplinary reasons or because they were found to be inappropriate candidates for treatment is relatively low.

Still, some Sheridan staff and administrators indicated they would like to see a more discriminating, careful assessment of inmates before they are sent to Sheridan, and request that inmates be given a “second look” to determine their actual motivations and intent in requesting placement at Sheridan. JHA also received reports from staff that with the growth of Illinois’ prison population, Sheridan has received increased numbers of inmates who are not appropriate candidates for the drug treatment program. In particular, staff and administrators reported an increase in the number of inmates they receive with serious psychiatric illnesses that are beyond the capacity of Sheridan to treat. They also reported an increase in the number of violent offenders sent to Sheridan, and an increase in the number of fights at the facility.

While Sheridan previously had more flexibility to transfer inmates who were seriously mentally ill, disruptive, or hostile to treatment, staff and administrators indicated that lack of bed space statewide has restricted this option. Staff and administrators further reported that limits on Sheridan’s ability to transfer have led to an increase in the number of inmates in segregation, many of whom are awaiting transfer to other facilities.

Compounding these issues, at the time of JHA’s visit, Sheridan was understaffed with medical and mental health professionals, as well as teachers, security staff, and clerical staff. The need for adequate medical and mental health staffing is especially acute at Sheridan, given that substance abusers have higher rates of serious mental and physical illness.4 Subsequent to JHA’s visit, Sheridan’s administration reported that the facility’s medical staffing situation had improved. However, understaffing of teachers, clerical, and security remained.

Executive Summary

On Aug. 25, 2010 four representatives of the John Howard Association of Illinois conducted a monitoring tour of Sheridan Correctional Center. Sheridan is a medium security male prison located approximately 70 miles south west of Chicago. It is the nation’s largest prison fully dedicated to substance abuse treatment and has a capacity to house approximately 1,380 inmates.

An increasing body of evidence shows that the substance abuse treatment at Sheridan is successful at deterring people from returning to prison after their release. The prison offers extensive educational and vocational opportunities, which are known to deter recidivism.

In 2004 Sheridan was dedicated to deal with inmates who have a history of substance abuse. About 40 percent of its inmates are confined on drug-related convictions, 3 percent for driving while under the influence of alcohol and the remainder for such offenses as burglary, robbery and assault. People convicted of murder or rape are not eligible for Sheridan.

Kenneth Osborne has been warden of Sheridan for two months. He said he has 20 years of experience in substance abuse and corrections. Warden Osborne said treatment of substance abuse makes a prison more manageable and safer for inmates and staff.

He also said he has encountered resistance from some staff at Sheridan, who he says believe he is too lenient towards inmates. This is often the case when a prison’s management incorporates a rehabilitative attitude towards incarceration.

“I was told this week I show more sympathy for the prisoners than the staff,” Warden Osborne said. He indicated he is confident his view of Sheridan’s mission will prevail.


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