Mayor Larry Morrissey said the city plans to meet this month with leadership teams from Gov. Pat Quinn’s office and the Department of Corrections. The program would be cooperative effort between several law enforcement and social service agencies, but Morrissey said the state’s cooperation is key to push the program forward.
A contingent of city officials, social workers, law enforcement officials and community agency representatives traveled to Racine, Wis., a month ago to study a community re-entry program that Morrissey and others hope to replicate. It would identify the most serious criminal offenders upon their release from prison and introduce them to programs and job opportunities meant to keep them on the right side of the law.
“We believe that by putting some energy around, let’s say, a couple hundred people, that we’ll be able to have a significant impact on reducing crime,” Morrissey said. “If we look at what they were able to accomplish in Racine by doing that, there’s a lot of evidence that it could pay off.”
The city and state will have to establish protocol for sharing records and put technology in place to ensure an easy exchange of information.
“As basic as that seems, that just doesn’t happen every day. You don’t have opportunities everyday in the world of government to connect all of the political silos, as well as the private sector,” Morrissey said. “The bigger the organization, the sometimes more difficult it is to take what might seem like a basic data exchange and pull it off.”
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections helps Racine identify soon-to-be released prisoners appropriate for the program. It targets gang members, drug dealers and those guilty of gun crimes for participation, which is a mandatory first appearance where they’re presented the opportunity to join other programs.
Similar efforts have been tried in Rockford. The U.S. attorney coordinated a program for those returning home after a gun-related prison stay. It ran from 2007 until about April 2009.
The program brought released prisoners in front of a panel at St. Paul Lutheran Church that included ATF officials, prosecutors, other law enforcement agents and service agencies, such as Rosecrance and the Literacy Council.
Law enforcement officials were there to warn the released prisoners of the severe penalties they faced if they broke the law again but also told them “it’s the beginning of a new life for you, that you’re out of prison and here’s what’s available for you if you’re looking for help,” said Deputy Chief Dominic Iasparro of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department.