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Illinois correctional policy-makers initiate historical changes.

Since 1970, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) has evolved from seven to 27 adult facilities. One of the major factors contributing to this significant growth was the passage of tougher sentencing laws. Despite the many challenges of managing an inmate and parole population of 78,000, today's administration has made great strides in building a strong correctional system. At the helm of DOC operations are Gov. George H. Ryan, Criminal Justice and Public Safety Deputy Gov. Matthew R Bettenhausen and DOC Director Donald N. Snyder Jr. The combination of their leadership and expertise has resulted in some of the state's most significant achievements in the DOC's history.

After being appointed director in 1999, Snyder pledged to guide the department in a new direction. By taking a proactive stance in implementing new policies, he vowed to raise operations to a higher level of performance, increase safety and ultimately "take back the prisons" from the obvious presence of security threat groups (STG). To accomplish these goals, the agency experienced one of the largest reorganizations in its history, which created new programs and services, and established control and order.

Bureau of Operations

One of the initial reorganization moves was the creation of the Bureau of Operations, which is under the direction of Associate Director George E. DeTella. For the first time, the department combined the operations and program administration of all adult, juvenile, adult transition (work release) centers and parole operations under one direction. Reducing Illinois' large geographical area into manageable areas was another critical step to help ensure staff accountability, and proper inmate and parolee supervision. Today, the bureau's command structure consists of five geographic districts. The smaller, more manageable units allow supervisors to manage operations more effectively and address issues quickly. Prior to the reorganization, three regional areas managed the operations of adult inmate facilities. The former Community Services Division, which supervised parole and work release, and the Juvenile Division operated separately.

Program Services And Women and Family Services

In May 1999, two new divisions, Program Services and Women and Family Services were created. The Program Services division was designed to provide a continuum of services for offenders from incarceration to discharge. One of the division's first responsibilities was to assess and evaluate every program and service provided to offenders within the agency. The project played a key role in DOC's new direction of establishing the continuum of programs and services offered at each facility within its designated security level.

The establishment of the Division of Women and Family Services marked an important milestone in recognizing the unique issues female offenders face. To focus on these issues, the department moved all its female inmates into one administrative division. New programs and services now are geared toward supporting, strengthening and helping female offenders successfully return to their families, communities and employment. One new program involves DOC and the Illinois Department of Human Services working together to build a bridge from incarceration to the community. Teams are designing success strategies for women to help ensure that the community has what the family needs to begin the discharge process, such as health care, substance abuse, domestic violence and parental programs.

The new direction also brought an end to co-ed facilities. Ryan announced in August 2000 that the Lincoln Correctional Center would be converted to a female facility. Female inmates at Dixon and Logan correctional centers, which were coed facilities, were transferred to Lincoln that October. "It will enable the Department of Corrections to provide a continuum of program services better tailored to the needs of female inmates," Ryan stated in an Aug. 24, 2000, press release. "These programs can help keep the children of inmates part of a family unit when it will benefit their development."

Security Levels

New designation levels from maximum-security to transitional-security were assigned to DOC facilities in late 1999 to ensure the consistency and standardization of operations from reception to discharge. The new levels offer a step-down program for inmates who exhibit good behavior. Operations such as inmate classification, program delivery, security and controlled movement are similar at same-level facilities. As the agency grows, these levels will help determine operating structures and the physical planning of new prisons.

Control and Order

Control and order are among the DOC's highest priorities. To eradicate STG activity in prisons, the department established a Central Intelligence Unit. Since the unit's formation, STG incidents have plummeted. The unit routinely monitors and tracks STG activities as well as certain individuals' activities within an STG. The unit also assists outside law enforcement agencies with major investigations of criminal activity, including involvement in narcotics, robbery, extortion, conspiracy and homicide.

Inmate uniforms also have addressed STG issues, Inmates are no longer permitted to wear altered or colored clothing associated with STGs. In addition, inmates are not permitted to display graphics on cell walls. Placing property boxes in cells was another step that enhanced staff's ability to conduct searches and facilitate safety, security and sanitation. Inmates are issued two boxes. One is for books, papers and legal materials; the other is for personal items. The property boxes, which are stored under the inmate's bed, allow for easier searches and provide a clean line of sight into all cells. All the inmate's property must fit into the property box. Compliance with this directive is checked daily.

Controlled line movement of inmates also has established a high degree of order through the escorted movement of smaller, more manageable groups of inmates. Recent changes in structure, technology, policies and procedures have provided for prime security and control of inmates. As seen through the state's innovative prison construction, new designs offer improved lines of observation and a central location for controlled programs and support facilities that allow for smaller, controlled movement of inmates.

Increased searches of inmate cells as well as visitors and their vehicles have reduced the amount of contraband found in the facilities. Other steps to eliminate contraband include changes in visiting room layouts and visitation procedures, as well as increased mail, phone and delivery monitoring.

In 1999, the early part of his administration, Ryan challenged the DOC to overhaul its parole system. Since this reorganization, the department has doubled its number of parole agents and restructured parole polices and procedures. Prior to the Ryan administration, only 180 parole agents served the department and only 80 monitored parolees on the street. Today, there are nearly 400 parole agents and 30 supervisors statewide who supervise more than 33,000 adult and juvenile parolees. More than 200 parole agents are assigned to Cook County, which encompasses Chicago. As a result of the new parole program, every parolee is assigned to a specific agent.

In addition, new agents are required to complete an extensive six-week training program, including firearms qualification. Equipment for each agent consists of a vehicle supplied with a mobile computer, mobile radios, a rear seat security cage, emergency lights and sirens, and a firearm lockbox. Agents are issued a weapon, an OC chemical agent, ballistic vest, cellular phone, pager and credentials.

The new parole system forces parole agents and parolees to be more accountable. Agents now are available in the community seven days per week, 24 hours a day and are responsible for contacting Automated Management Services (AMS) to take notes about their parolee visits. AMS is a central communication center that documents and provides 24-hour information management on all parolees. The new procedure allows the agency to track parolees and their progress.

As part of the new monitoring system, all parolees are classified into one of three supervision levels. Level-1 parolees are required to contact AMS at least once per month and have at least one monthly face-to-face contact with their field agent. They also must provide monthly documentation of compliance with Illinois Prisoner Review Board (PRB) orders and be subject to random drug testing. Level-2 offenders, who are released from an adult transition center, are required to contact AMS at least twice per month. This group must have at least one face-to-face contact with their field agent every 90 days, provide monthly documentation of compliance with PRB orders and be subject to random drug testing. Parolees transition to Level-3 after the successful completion of Levels 1 and 2. Level-3 parolees are required to contact AMS at least twice per month, have at least one face-to-face meeting with their field agent every 180 days, provide monthly documentation of compliance with PRB orders and be subject to rand om drug testing. The parolee remains at Level 3 until discharged unless increased supervision is warranted. In fiscal year 2001, more than 54,400 drug tests were conducted on parolees.

The numbers support the success of the new parole efforts. In fiscal year 1998, a typical agent caseload comprised about 175 parolees. Only 1,200 parolees received direct supervision in the community at that time. Today, an agent caseload averages 79 parolees and all the state's 33,000 parolees receive direct supervision in the community.

Placement Resource Unit

Planning for an inmate's release begins 18 months prior to his or her release. The newly created Placement Resource Unit is an integral part of the agency's Program Services Division, providing the final link in the continuum of services process. The unit operates statewide and serves as a resource to provide effective programming, such as substance abuse and mental health treatment as well as educational programs and links to employment opportunities. The unit also ensures that specific parolees meet specialized housing criteria in addition to outpatient services. The unit's monitoring of the parolee's progress also requires interaction with parole agents and supervisors, law enforcement agencies and various units within the DOC.

The Operation Center

The Operation Center at the DOC's Springfield, headquarters operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week as a statewide command center. The center is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and is vital to the agency's parole program, as well as the DOC's overall operations.

Before the center's inception in July 2000, a central location for parole inquiries did not exist. The timing of the center's opening accommodated the agency's new parole initiative. During the first month of operations, the center processed nearly 8,700 calls. One month later, calls increased to more than 15,500. Within six months, that number nearly doubled to 27,000 calls per month along with 938 warrants in the Law Enforcement Agency Data System being issued for violators, which include parolee violators and adult transition center escapees. At that time, nearly 740 parolees were apprehended.

One of the most crucial goals of the center is the safety and monitoring of the agency's parole agents. The center supports parole agents and other law enforcement agencies by supplying them with a variety of inmate data, such as inmate tracking systems, addresses, leads, inquiries and criminal histories. The center also provides support through AMS, which involves issuing and canceling warrants.

Additionally, the Operations Center supports the Illinois State Police Network Notification as an administrative contact and monitors transport operations when parole agents accompany offenders who are being brought back into custody and delivered to one of the agency's reception and classification centers.

Operation Windy City

In early November 2001, Ryan announced that more than 14,790 parolees returned to prison during fiscal year 2001 as a result of the revitalized parole operation. This marked a significant increase from 8,150 parolees returning in fiscal year 2000 and 7,076 returning in fiscal year 1999. The new parole program includes Operation Windy City, a joint effort between the DOC and the Chicago Police Department. Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley initiated Operation Windy City in response to the shooting deaths of several children in Chicago in July 2000. The Windy City operations are conducted to help ensure that parolees are meeting the behavior requirements of their parole.

During 33 operations that spanned 13 months, teams comprising Chicago police officers, parole agents and highly trained members of the DOC's special weapons team conducted more than 1,500 face-to-face contacts with parolees. The parolees were transported to the police department headquarters to be processed through parole interviews and drug tested.

In a November 2001 press release, Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard stated that the police department was grateful to the DOC for the contribution made by its parole agents and special weapons team members. "The teamwork demonstrated by [Chicago Police Department] officers and DOC personnel have contributed greatly to the safety of Chicago citizens in many neighborhoods," he said.


The creation of the Automated Receiving and Classification System (ARCS) allows for better tracking of all parolees who have returned to the DOC with respect to their activity while on parole. The department's Office of Technology, under the Administrative Services Division, was responsible for the overall ARCS system startup and implementation. Previously, tracking was conducted manually and was not as detailed as ARCS.

ARCS is designed to track a parolee's employment, gang involvement, parole agent contact and program participation while on parole. The Office of Technology serves as technology coordinator for Operation Windy City and ensures that contact is maintained with all field agent teams of field agents. All pertinent information is recorded and maintained for each contact and follow-up. Duties also include maintaining statistical data for all Windy City operations.

Training Academy

Redirecting and improving training academy operations was a top priority for the DOC. To establish consistency and attain a paramilitary structure, the training academy set new standards to achieve a system that focuses on professionalism with increased emphasis on discipline and high ethical standards. The academy's duty to prepare strong leaders is conducted through the continual review, revision and adaptation of curricula and the development of new training programs. The program for correctional officers and youth supervisors was completely upgraded and revised enhancing facility-based, hands-on training.

In addition to this new focus, the academy has played a significant role in the agency's new parole initiative in parole agent training. Training increased from three to six weeks. The academy also developed a way for staff to earn college credit for in-service training.

Performance-Based Standards

Changes to the DOC's internal audit control-process are under way and are as significant to the agency as its original internal audit standards. The internal audit control process is a function designed to help ensure that the DOC achieves its predetermined competency-based objectives. The purpose of the performance-based management initiatives is to promote improved performance outcomes for administrators, managers and supervisors, as well as encourage and promote professional growth and development.

New Uniforms and Badges

A long-term goal toward raising the professionalism and appearance of the department was the distribution of new badges and uniforms to a security staff of nearly 10,600. The new uniforms were phased in early this year and replace the type worn at the DOC since the mid-1970s. Employee teams worked around-the-clock to fit each officer on every shift. The new uniforms are dark blue. The new seven-pointed badge features the state of Illinois seal inscribed with Serving Justice, Serving Illinois.

Zero-Tolerance Drug Testing Policy

In July 2001, Ryan signed a bill making zero tolerance of drug abuse by correctional officers and state police the law in Illinois. The law allows for correctional officers and state police to be fired with the first positive drug test recorded in random testing sweeps. "Drugs and prisons are like gasoline and matches," said Snyder. "I can't think of a more dangerous combination for staff to face. Before this law, staff were allowed one too many opportunities to continue their employment after a positive drug test. This opened the door for staff to be compromised by observant and manipulative inmates." Ryan also noted that state police and the DOC are committed to ensuring the safety of the public, officers and inmates. "This is a step that is long overdue; one impaired officer is one too many," he stated in a press release.

Helping Paws

The Helping Paws Program at Dwight Correctional Center is the first dog training program in the state involving inmates as trainers. The DOC teamed up with the nonprofit Clarence Foundation and Lake Land College to provide service dogs at no cost to Illinois residents with special needs. Service dogs typically cost up to $30,000. Helping Paws, which began in May 2000 as part of a correctional industries program, includes 10 female inmates and 10 dogs. The inmates train the dogs to perform a variety of services, such as opening cabinets, retrieving objects, switching lights, and walking beside wheelchairs and walkers.

The Clarence Foundation chooses dogs from various animal shelters that have the proper temperament and behavior necessary to become service dogs. The foundation also places the dogs after training. Lake Land College helps provide training as well as a basic dog-grooming program. The inmates serving as trainers are learning new skills to assist them with future employment opportunities. These benefits contribute to rehabilitation and prevention of recidivism.


The Reunification Program provides female offenders with the opportunity to involve themselves in their children's lives on a continuing, consistent basis. The program allows children to spend structured time with their incarcerated mothers. Scheduled activities help mothers foster a nurturing relationship with their children that promotes growth and development for both.

Ongoing parenting sessions and structured visits are requirements to participate in the program. The sessions teach discipline, coping with stress and developing a creative learning time. The program provides the therapeutic center for constructive, nonthreatening interaction between the mothers and their children.

Memorial Wall

The dream of a corrections memorial has become a reality. For years, individual DOC institutions have paid tribute to its fallen colleagues in some fashion. However, a single ceremony did not exist. At Snyder's direction, the concept of uniting these ceremonies began to take shape. National Correctional Officers Week became a focal point to honor the DOC's fallen heroes and to recognize the agency's correctional officer of the year. The combined ceremonial recognition of those employees who gave their lives in the line of duty and those who carried the spirit of dedication, pride and courage has become an annual event at DOC headquarters.

But more was needed. The nonprofit Illinois Correctional Employees Memorial Association (ICEMA) was created to recognize correctional staff who have died or suffered permanent disabilities in the line of duty and to provide for their families through financial assistance. ICEMA also funds a newly constructed granite memorial wall with inscribed granite blocks listing the names of DOC's fallen heroes. A groundbreaking ceremony of the Corrections Memorial Wall was held May 10, 2001, at the agency's headquarters to recognize and memorialize correctional employees, who, in serving justice and Illinois citizens, were killed in the line of duty. To date, 30 employees have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Bettenhausen noted that a safer prison system and a safer workplace are always his top priorities as well as reducing the dangers correctional employees face. "Employees who have made the ultimate sacrifice, should and will be in our memories for decades and generations to come through this memorial," he said. "It is often said that memorials are just as important in soothing the loss of the living as they are in honoring the memory of the dead."


As leaders in corrections, Ryan, Bettenhausen and Snyder continue to evaluate their mission of operating one of the largest prison systems in the nation by setting new goals and conducting meaningful long-term future plans. Their expertise and vision of responsible management of maintaining a strong and solid prison system provide the cornerstone of protecting the citizens of Illinois.

Dede Short is a public in formation officer for the Illinois Department of Corrections and serves as editor of the agency's magazines, Perspectives and DOC Report, and the department's annual report.
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Title Annotation:Illinois Department of Corrections
Author:Short, Dede
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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