Editorial: Innovative jail programs give inmates resources for hope
Not many people would relish the opportunity to go to jail.
But county jails are demonstrating that incarceration can be more than enforced separation from society.
Ventral Murphy of Willowbrook experienced this firsthand. Murphy, 23, who had been arrested on theft charges, passed up the chance to post bail and get out of DuPage County jail. Instead, he joined eight nonviolent detainees selected to attend six weeks of welding classes in a trailer at the sheriff's complex. Last week, he became one of three who have graduated with Level 1 welding certificates. Now, he plans to seek more training at College of DuPage.
And he talks like someone who has a future.
"I'd rather finish this program in here and be able to go outside with something else under my belt to make my momma proud," he said. "I can go to COD to take the next steps to be a better welder and make more money to take care of my family. I'm fighting for this chance."
It's a sentiment you might hear at county lockups throughout the region. At the Lake County jail, inmate volunteers at an IN2WORK Program can complete an intense three-day course on food safety and food industry management and earn state culinary certification. In Kane County, opioid addicts can appeal to the sheriff's office for referral to treatment without fear of arrest, and the county is studying the possibility of using 30,000 square feet of unused jail space for vocational programs and drug addiction treatment for inmates. This spring, Cook County was among 15 sites nationwide selected to participate in a program providing medication-assisted treatment in jails for opioid addicts.
Most of the programs like these require inmates to qualify and demonstrate continuing improvement.
Such efforts are no signal that jail time is becoming a comfortable timeout for wrongdoers. But they can and do make the experience something much more valuable than tedious, unproductive confinement.
"This isn't a punishment. This is an opportunity for them," DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick said of his department's welding program.
Jail, of course, is hardly the first place people in troubled situations might think of to turn their lives around. Indeed, it ought to be the last. But it's good to know that if it comes to that, people even in a potentially hopeless situation can get resources to help them find something worth looking forward to.