JOLIET – A Will County court program designed to stop the “revolving door” of the prison system is beginning to pay dividends.
On Wednesday, seven people became the first graduates of Will County Adult Redeploy Illinois – a diversion program for nonviolent offenders.
“We’ve been banging our heads against a wall for 100 years locking people up. We spend $25,000 a year for you to sit and stare at a wall and do nothing,” State’s Attorney James Glasgow said. “Now you can be a constructive part of society.”
The program was created two years ago to change offenders’ criminal behavior with 18 months of counseling, substance abuse treatment, mental health therapy and job services.
After being accepted, participants plead guilty to charges including theft, drug possession or burglary. The convictions are on their record, but they avoid incarceration.
Thirty-six people are enrolled in the Will County program.
There are 39 ARI programs statewide.
Each participant is estimated to cost taxpayers $3,500 a year.
Two of Wednesday’s graduates also were former participants in Drug Court – another program designed to help users avoid criminal convictions. Glasgow said only 5 percent of Drug Court graduates “re-offend,” and Adult Redeploy Illinois could produce the same result.
“ARI doesn’t necessarily mean drug addiction. There can be drug abuse,” Judge Carla Alessio Policandriotes said. “These people have a longer criminal history. They’re probation-eligible [offenses], but they’re also eligible for extended-term [sentences].”
Besides substance abuse support, participants studied Moral Reconation Therapy to change their views on behavior and the choices they face.
“As a scientist, I was very encouraged to hear this program is based on facts and evidence,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville.
The graduates, Shawn Akison, Diane Hurtado, Katina McCullum, Maria Michaud, Sandra Riley, Latoya Thompson and Tonya Veenstra, received plaques and a commemorative coin.
“Life is a journey, not a destination,” said one side of the coins. “Personal growth is not a journey of a thousand days or a journey of a lifetime. It is a journey of one day at a time,” said the other.
“I want to see some more guys who can finish this,” Akison, the lone male graduate, told the Will County jail inmates watching from the audience. “If you want to change [the program] is easy. It just takes time.”
Thompson said the program has taught her to develop job skills and coping skills to avoid triggering bad behaviors.
Since joining in 2015, Veenstra has started working and attending college.
“I was probably the most resistant when this started. I hated everyone. I hated that I had to trust the same people who locked me up over and over, but what choice did I have?” Veenstra said. “Following suggestions and getting out of my own way is why I’m here right now.”