Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center

Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center

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Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center is a Minimum-Security adult male prison located approximately 293 miles south of Chicago and 17 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri.

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Monitoring Reports

Executive Summary

In 1995, SWICC opened as a fully dedicated substance abuse treatment facility. Reentry planning and assistance is a key part of the treatment regime. In the words of one administrator, “discharge begins at admission.” JHA was particularly impressed with SWICC’s commitment to rehabilitation including educational or vocational programming in addition to substance abuse treatment that all inmates participated in; this was in stark contrast with other IDOC facilities where programming opportunities are far more limitedly available. The cost per inmate at SWICC is $41,291.

SWICC and Sheridan Correctional Center (Sheridan) are the two male substance abuse treatment facilities within IDOC. A handful of the 22 other IDOC male facilities have some substance abuse treatment bed space or programming, though most only offer limited volunteer-provided Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA). SWICC and Sheridan are unique in being facilities that are fully dedicated to treatment.

As of December 2012, IDOC had 2,852 substance abuse treatment beds for males and a population of more than 46,000 male inmates. A national 2010 study found that 65 percent of the United States prison population met medical criteria for substance abuse and addiction, though only 11 percent receive treatment. An additional 20 percent of the national prison population, while not meeting the medical criteria, were “substance involved,” meaning they were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of the offense, stole money to buy drugs, are substance abusers, or violated alcohol or drug laws. Hence facilities like SWICC that focus on treatment and reentry are vitally important.

Administrators are proud of the institutional mission and demonstrated success of SWICC. A 2011 Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) study found that despite the fact that prison challenges the general Therapeutic Community (TC) model by treating individuals with typically “the most extensive and serious criminal and substance abuse histories,” inmates released from SWICC had a 15 percent lower likelihood of recidivating after two years than a statistically similar comparison group. Moreover, SWICC inmates who successfully completed reentry aftercare had a 48 percent lower likelihood of recidivating than the comparison group. SWICC administrators reported that they continue to research and pursue programming that will assist inmates upon reentry, particularly in geographic areas that lack sufficient services.

In addition to cost savings for Illinois achieved through recidivism reduction, earned good conduct credits8 of SWICC inmates for fiscal years 2007-2010 were estimated at $8.8 million in savings to the state through reduced incarceration costs equaling 376 years of incarceration.9 The efficiency of substance abuse treatment and related cost-savings would seem to make offering more such programming an obvious choice for improving IDOC results.

Furthermore, for the most part, SWICC inmates expressed that it was a good place for them to be and that the treatment was helpful. The major complaint about the program was frustration with being unable to move on to the final phase of treatment. JHA heard from inmates variations on the theme that though the program and staff were “strict,” with many rules to be obeyed, “you get what you put in here.”

Many inmates also said very positive things about the educational opportunities, especially credits towards Associates degrees, and work opportunities at SWICC. Inmates reported that SWICC was helping change their attitudes and know that they will be successful when they leave. Administrators also spoke of satisfaction in seeing inmates learn through the program to express who they are, what they plan to do, and how they have changed.

JHA also heard many positive comparisons to other IDOC facilities where inmates noted that SWICC was comparatively more like “home” or “a second chance.” Administrators stressed that a key part of SWICC’s mission was to treat everyone with dignity and respect and during our visit JHA observed many respectful, open conversations that included staff and inmates, even about challenging issues.

The majority of facility based complaints JHA received from inmates related to healthcare and lack of clean bedding. Such concerns are sadly pervasive throughout IDOC. Recognizing fiscal constraints, JHA is optimistic that small measures to address or be responsive to inmate concerns will do wonders to boost morale.

Meanwhile JHA recommends that our allies continue to support the recommendations put forth in JHA’s 2012 Healthcare Report,10 and work to reduce Illinois’ unsustainable prison population so that those inmates that remain can be provided with humane conditions, including decent clothing and linens.

This report examines the following areas: Treatment, Reentry, Living Conditions, Staffing, Discipline and Segregation, Educational and Vocational Programming, Healthcare, Grievances, and Demographics.

Executive Summary

On March 7, 2011, the John Howard Association (JHA) visited Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center, a Minimum-Security adult male prison located approximately 293 miles south of Chicago and 17 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri.

Southwestern Illinois Correction Center, also known as SWICC, is a prison with a purpose. It is one of two state facilities dedicated to substance abuse treatment, and the only one that has a specialized methamphetamine addiction treatment program.

SWICC’s intensive treatment model is not cheap. It costs about $40,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate at SWICC, which is almost twice as much as the average cost among Illinois Department of Correction (IDOC) facilities.

While SWICC spends more money on inmates, the facility achieves significantly better results than most of Illinois’ prisons. Only 25 percent of SWICC inmates recidivate within three years of their release, compared to over 50 percent of inmates from other IDOC facilities.

These results explain why SWICC’s Warden, James Davidson, considers the prison to be an investment in terms of re-incarceration costs and crimes prevented. “For every dollar the state spends at SWICC, we save taxpayers $7,” Warden Davidson told JHA. These savings are generated from the criminal justice system, the health care industry, the business community, and community services.

Perhaps it is not surprising that SWICC has such a low recidivism rate because everything about the prison is meticulously designed to help inmates successfully reenter society. This process begins before inmates arrive at the facility. All inmates at SWICC are specially selected when they enter IDOC custody at a Reception and Classification Unit (R&C). IDOC has a contract with Treatment Alternative for Safe Communities (TASC), an Illinois non-profit, to administer this process and track inmates. Once they are chosen as potential candidates, inmates must then volunteer for the program. Some inmates who agree to be part of the program arrive at SWICC directly from R&C, while others are put on a waiting list and sent to other IDOC facilities. At any given time, there are between 60–70 inmates waiting to be transferred to SWICC.

Another important difference from other IDOC facilities is that SWICC’s administration focuses on fundamentally changing the way inmates think, rather than merely correcting their behavior and treating their addictions. The administration wants inmates to think of the prison as a community in which they all have a stake. For instance, inmates are expected to police each other. SWICC’s administration recognizes that this brother’s-keeper attitude is counter to how most inmates survive prison and life on the streets. At the same time, they believe changing an inmate’s mindset is an essential part of helping him reenter society. Throughout our visit, SWICC’s administration would summarize their approach to corrections by saying “right thinking is right living.”

Warden Davidson told JHA that he tries to cultivate this same attitude in his staff, which is illustrated in a story he told JHA. Warden Davidson said he was recently talking to a group of his staff when news came that an inmate had gotten into trouble. As soon as the inmate’s name was mentioned, one of the Lieutenants got worried. “He’s one of my guys,” the Lieutenant said before running off to see what had happened. “I couldn’t have been happier,” Warden Davidson said of his Lieutenant’s reaction, explaining it is critical to the success of SWICC’s treatment model for his staff to believe they are personally responsible for the inmates under their charge.

This mentality is not only at odds with the inmate culture of most prisons, but also with the traditional culture of corrections and law enforcement. One of the assistant wardens, for example, told JHA that before he came to SWICC, he was a police detective and had arrested the same kind of inmates who now end up at his prison. He said that based on his policing experience, he was initially skeptical that drug-addicted inmates could be rehabilitated. When JHA asked him what changed his mind, he responded with a simple answer: “I have seen it work.”

The proof is in the numbers. SWICC’s low recidivism rate and its high rate of successful drug rehabilitation demonstrate that its approach is working. JHA commends the efforts at SWICC and recommends that IDOC consider implementing some of the therapeutic practices at other facilities. Although SWICC’s population is specially screened and the model would not necessarily be as successful with a general population, a recent study showed that 85 percent of inmates in the United States struggle with substance abuse.1 In light of that staggering statistic, it is important that adequate treatment and programming be available to more inmates than simply those at a specialized facility.


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