MURPHYSBORO — Illinois Department of Corrections inmates with three years or less on their sentences who have demonstrated good behavior may have a second chance because of the new re-entry facility set to open this spring in Murphysboro.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and state Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, announced this past week the Murphysboro Re-Entry Center will open in a matter of months. The facility is in the same building that housed the former Illinois Youth Center, which closed in 2012. Bryant said Monday the target date for inmate arrival is between March 1 and April 1, depending on how long it takes for the 63 correctional officers hired to staff the facility to train.

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Lindsay Hess, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said inmates must apply to be transferred to the center. On top of the requirement of having three years or less on their sentences and positive behavior, offenders must also write an essay explaining why the center would help them.

“The Murphysboro Reentry Center will offer educational, job readiness and cognitive behavior therapy courses to offenders who have one to three years left on their sentence and qualify for placement,” Hess wrote in an email. “The offenders will learn skills that help them readjust to society, like how to manage a bank account, use the latest technology and schedule medical appointments.”

She said General Education Development and Adult Basic Education classes will be available at the center as well. Other training opportunities include construction occupations and construction management, horticulture and horticulture management, and manufacturing skills.

Advocacy groups in the state are pleased to hear of the facility's opening.

Benjamin Ruddell, director of criminal justice policy at the American Civil Liberties Union, said for decades, Illinois has incarcerated too many young people while offering few programs to give adults exiting the prison system the tools to succeed.

“Closing a youth prison and opening an adult re-entry facility in Murphysboro represent encouraging steps toward a more sensible allocation of the state’s public safety resources,” he said.

Jennifer Vollen, executive director of the John Howard Association in Chicago, said there is benefit in an offender using his time in prison to get an education or learn marketable skills that can be used upon release.

According to its website, the John Howard Association independently monitors correctional facilities, policies and practices, and advances reforms to achieve a fair, humane and effective criminal justice system.

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Vollen said in Kewanee, the site of another re-entry facility the Murphysboro facility is supposed to model, offenders who finish the program typically are placed back in a prison where they act as mentors to other prisoners.

“It is a way of maximizing the impact,” she said.

Vollen said re-entry planning and individualized planning for soon-to-be-release inmates is critical to their success after incarceration.

“It is not just being able to get a job. We need to think about the very basic needs,” she said. “Where are those people going to sleep the first night? What clothes are they are going to wear? Do they know how to use a cell phone? Do they have a family to go home to?

“What are the options making sure people aren’t walking out into nothing?” she said.

Hess said the plan is to have 63 officers and 240 offenders in the facility when it opens. She said those numbers could increase as the program grows.

Hess said the cost to reopen and repurpose the facility is about $500,000. The annual expenses are projected at about $8 million.

dustin.duncan@thesouthern.com

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