ACCORDING to data compiled by the Department of Justice, half of those released from state prisons return within three years. Illinois' recidivism rate mirrors the national trend, with 47 percent of parolees returning within that time frame.
The Illinois Department of Corrections is attempting to reverse that trend. The IDOC has hosted about two dozen Summit of Hope events statewide each year since 2010, making its first stop in Quincy earlier this week.
Summit of Hope is an invitation-only event for local parolees in each community. It is designed to pool local resources available to provide a one-stop environment to enable parolees to obtain necessary assistance to eliminate barriers to success.
"Many times when people are incarcerated, they get detached from the basic needs," Marcus King, a senior community outreach coordinator with the IDOC, told The Herald-Whig. "What we do is bring those resources together to collectively serve the people and give them a second chance."
A December 2015 report issued by Gov. Bruce Rauner's Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform noted that the inability to find lawful employment was one of the biggest factors contributing to recidivism.
Statistics from the U.S. Attorney's Office offers corroborating evidence, noting that 93 percent of parolees who find jobs do not return to prison. Rauner has vowed to reduce the state's prison population by 25 percent by 2025, and one of the best ways to accomplish that is to keep inmates who have done their time from returning.
The ambitious goal was made necessary because the state's prisons are among the most overcrowded in the nation, operating at 150 percent of design capacity. The Illinois prison population has grown from 6,000 inmates in 1974 to nearly 49,000 today, according to the Bureau of Justice.
Moreover, according to the Illinois Office of Management and Budget, it cost an average of $22,191 to incarcerate one inmate in an Illinois prison in 2014, or about $1.08 billion to house the total prison population that year. So recidivism carries a huge financial and societal cost.
The Summit of Hope helps attendees obtain state IDs, offers them substance abuse treatment and counseling resources, presents them with job training and employment opportunities, and makes them aware of other social service agencies.
Its mission statement came from a parolee who wrote in the comment section of his evaluation: "Please continue to give hope to those of us who have lost our hope."
Clearly, reducing recidivism can only be achieved by improving re-entry into a community for those who have spent time behind bars. The Summit of Hope, with community members offering a helping hand, is a positive step in that direction.