Community Connections links offenders with stabilizing resources

BI operates eight Spotlight Reentry Centers for the Illinois Department of Corrections. These centers have helped the DOC to manage thousands of parolees in the community since opening more than a decade ago. The goals of the Spotlight Reentry Center include reducing the prison population by diverting individuals to community supervision and helping clients stay crime-free once released to the community. Studies have shown these reentry programs help reduce costly recidivism through intensive, evidence-based practices supervision, treatment and training. The centers are open seven days a week.

A key component of the Spotlight Reentry Centers – in fact, a key component of all BI day reporting programs – is a program called Community Connections. As part of Community Connections, local agencies, businesses and coalitions deliver frequent presentations for parolees. Parolees are advised of the significant resources available within their community, which allows them to find the assistance they need to stay out of prison and lead productive crime-free lives.

Spotlight Center staff will identify community agencies, businesses and coalitions that can be long term resources for this client population. Speakers present on the resources that they have available and on topics to assist the process of reintegration and restoration of parolees back into the community. They also welcome parolees back into the community, with the understanding that if the person is willing to become a productive community member, then much assistance is available. Families of parolees are encouraged to attend program sessions and participate in the open discussions.

For example, Jacqueline Penny, an Employment Security Specialist with the Illinois Department of Employment Security, is a frequent presenter via the Community Connections program.  Her agency operates the state’s unemployment insurance program, the Illinois employment services, veterans’ programs, job training and other special workforce development programs for the unemployed and underemployed. She helps Spotlight Center clients to connect with employers. Penny said a typical presentation include 25 to 30 parolees.

Penny has been involved with the state department since 1975, yet she says what she sees at the Spotlight Reentry Centers is unique. “I’ve seen a lot of programs for ex-offenders over the years, and this program has a very positive energy to it. The people here, many of who are ex-offenders themselves, who really care about what they are doing.”